Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Review: 'Blood on the Water' by Anne Perry

✰✰✰½ In the twentieth William Monk mystery, Monk witnesses the spectacular explosion of the Princess Mary, a pleasure boat. With pieces of debris and bodies everywhere, Monk and the River Police rush into action. Soon it is clear that this was no accident. Before Monk can begin his investigation, the case is handed over to the Metropolitan Police. Although a man is quickly caught, tried, and sentenced, Monk discovers that the defendant was somewhere else at the time of the blast. Now with the case back in his hands, Monk must sift through the twists and turns of the investigation before he or others end up dead.

The Bottom Line: With international intrigue and lots of courtroom scenes, this complicated mystery is a page-turner. Having not read the previous books in the series, I was missing some of the backstory of the characters; however, this did not deter from my enjoyment of the novel. Recommended for fans of mysteries and historical fiction.

Details: Blood on the Water: A William Monk Novel by Anne Perry. Hardcover published by Ballantine Books in 2014. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-345-54843-6 NOTE: I received a free copy from Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review: 'A String of Hearts' by Laura Malone Elliott

✰✰✰ Sam has a crush on Tiffany, the most popular girl in class. With Valentine's Day coming up, Sam has a plan to win Tiffany's attention. All he has to do is make the perfect Valentine. With the help of his best friend, Mary Ann, Sam creates a beautiful Valentine. Will Tiffany like it? Sam soon finds out that sometimes it's easy to overlook what you already have.

The Bottom Line: Laura Malone Elliott's sweet, classic story highlights the value of friendship and telling others what they mean to you. Meanwhile, Lynn Munsinger's charming watercolor illustrations bring the story to life. Recommended for kids in grades 1 & 2. Also, recommended for teachers and librarians planning a Valentine themed story hour. The book includes a brief summary of the holiday as well.

Details: A String of Hearts written by Laura Malone Elliott & illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. Hardcover picture book published by Katherine Tegen Books in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-000085-1

Monday, February 2, 2015

Book Review: 'Double Trouble Groundhog Day' by Bethany Roberts

✰✰✰✰✰ There's always double trouble when twins are involved. Gregory and Greta Groundhog are no exception. When Grampie Groundhog decides it's time to retire from forecasting the weather, both twins want the job. There's only one way to settle drawing straws. Gregory wins. However, when he loses his glasses, he can't see his shadow. With reporters waiting, the pressure is on. How will Gregory make his prediction? Read this charming picture book with your little ones and find out.

The Bottom Line: Celebrate Groundhog Day with this adorable book. Whether you read it at bedtime or storytime, children are sure to enjoy it. Lorinda Bryan Cauley's colorful watercolor and colored pencil illustrations perfectly complement the story. Highly recommended for seasonal reading for kids ages 2 - 7.

Details: Double Trouble Groundhog Day written by Bethany Roberts & illustrated by Lorinda Bryan Cauley. Hardcover picture book published by Henry Holt and Company in 2008. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-8050-8280-7

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review: 'The Great Eight' by Scott Hamilton

✰✰✰✰½ Start the New Year with this inspirational read by Olympic champion and cancer survivor, Scott Hamilton. To his adoring fans, Hamilton has always seemed like the most positive person in the world. However, this wasn’t always so. Hamilton has struggled through countess setbacks including childhood illness, cancer, a brain tumor, and personal challenges to come out a winner. By sharing his stories, Hamilton reinforces the idea that happiness is a choice we are faced with everyday. Hamilton describes how through commitment and repetition, anyone can change. In this book, he shares the secrets to combating negativity. Each chapter reveals a step on the road to finding happiness, fulfillment, and a positive attitude.

The Bottom Line: Hamilton is a champion both on and off the ice. Written with honesty and humor, Hamilton shows everyone simple ways to lighten your mood and make a positive impact on others as well. While this book is short and a bit repetitive, I still highly recommend it. Much of what Hamilton writes about is commonsense; however, his use of ice skating analogies makes the material fresh. The ideas are easy to understand and the language is accessible. No matter what stage of life you are in or what challenges you are facing, everyone can benefit from Hamilton’s ideas.

Details: The Great Eight: How to be Happy (even when you have every reason to be miserable) by Scott Hamilton. Paperback published by Thomas Nelson in 2008. 183 p. ISBN: 978-0-7852-3090-8

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Book Review: 'The Swallow' by Charis Cotter

✰✰✰✰✰ Polly and Rose are two lonely 12-year-old girls who feel invisible to everyone. Set in the 1960s in Toronto during an outbreak of meningitis, the girls live right next door to each other. One day the girls discover that they can communicate through a shared wall in the attic. Besides being the same age, the girls learn that they are nearly exact opposites. Polly comes from a large family, while Rose is an only child. Polly is boisterous, while Rose is reserved. Polly wishes she could see ghosts, while Rose wishes she didn't. In fact, Polly is so convinced that Rose is actually a ghost, she sets out to prove it.

Follow Polly through the many twists and turns of this gothic ghost story with a surprise ending. You won't be disappointed.

The Bottom Line: This is a bittersweet story of friendship.Written from two points of view, each character has a distinctive voice. I enjoyed the use of mood, setting, and hints employed by the author to keep readers guessing. Readers will appreciate the short chapters making this book a very quick read. Check it out if you enjoyed the movie "The Sixth Sense." Very highly recommended for tweens interested in ghost stories and paranormal fiction. This would make a great gift.

Details: The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter. Hardcover published by Tundra Books in 2014. 322 p. ISBN: 978-1-77049-591-3  Note: I received a free copy from Tundra Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: 'Betty Crocker Christmas Cookies'

✰✰✰✰ The holidays roll around just once a year. There's so little time to try out complicated and time-consuming recipes. That's where the Betty Crocker Christmas Cookies cookbook comes in handy. Featuring easy-to-read recipes with full-page, full-color photos, this cookbook is perfect for your baking needs. The book begins with "Cookie Success Secrets" and "Bar and Brownie Success Secrets," which include choosing the proper equipment, storage tips, and choosing ingredients. Each recipe includes nutrition information, preparation time, start to finish time, and the number of cookies or bars each recipe makes. The numbered step-by-step instructions are clear and concise. There is also information on "Cookies as Gifts," a "Metric Conversion Guide," and an Index. Yummy recipes to check out include "Mini Whoopie Pies," "Linzer Cookies," "Chocolate Chip Reindeer Cookies," "Strawberry Cheesecake Bars," "Striped Peppermint Cookies," and Bourbon-Spiked Brownie Truffle Balls." Even if you don't bake throughout the year, there's something for everyone in this cookbook.

Taste Test Notes: There were so many tempting recipes, but I decided to try to make the "Red Velvet Rich-and-Creamy Cookies." The ingredients were super easy to locate at my local grocery store. That's always a plus. Once I had everything gathered, I found that this recipe was very easy to make. While my cookies weren't quite as red as those in the photo, they were very tasty. These cookies aren't big, so you can easily enjoy two or three with your afternoon tea and not feel too guilty.

Here are all the ingredients needed to make this simple recipe!

Here are the finished cookies (without nuts).
Nana's Baking Tip: If you don't like chopped nuts, just omit them and decorate with red sugar crystals instead. Also, these would be a festive treat for Valentine's Day as well.

The Bottom Line: This cookbook will appeal to bakers of all levels. There are recipes for drop cookies, shaped cookies, filled cookies, bars, brownies, and cookie cut-outs. These cookies come in all flavors too like chocolate, raspberry, and peppermint. You can also find a variety of gluten-free recipes. The cookbook is easy to use and the layout is attractive. Baking projects that are fun for kids are indicated, and the inclusion of "Tinsel Time Tips" for festive touches make the book interesting. All in all this cookbook is highly recommended; however, it would have been even better if the editors had included a skill level for each recipe.

Details: Betty Crocker Christmas Cookies by Betty Crocker. Paperback published by Betty Crocker in 2013. 208 p. ISBN: 978-0-544-16664-6

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: 'No Biking in the House Without a Helmet' by Melissa Fay Greene

✰✰✰½ Award winning journalist Melissa Fay Greene and her husband already had four biological children when they decided to adopt a little boy from Bulgaria. Rather than accept the "empty nest" that their home threatened to become when the oldest children headed off to college, the couple kept adopting. The next child was a little girl from Ethiopia. By the time Greene and her husband were finished adopting, their family included a total of nine kids from three continents.

The Bottom Line: Melissa Fay Greene's writing style is approachable for most readers. She writes with humor, tenderness, and honesty as she covers both the joys and the challenges of raising a large family. Recommended for everyone interested in the study of families. Also, for potential adoptive parents.

Book Club Notes: The short chapters and conversational tone of this book made it a quick read. One member pointed out that it was reminiscent of Erma Bombeck's writing style. The discussion was lighthearted as we worked out way through questions available in the reading guide from Macmillan. The anecdotes made for fun reading, and it was easy to get sidetracked by our own stories as we defined what it means to be a family. The discussion turned lively as we debated the pros and cons of domestic vs. international adoption. Furthermore, many of us agreed that we wanted to hear more about Greene's husband, Donny. Some members commented that the book could have been shorter. Also, several members noted that the stories were not all in chronological order. Overall, the group gave the book 3.75 stars and enjoyed reading it.

Details: No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene. Paperback published by Sarah Crichton Books in 2011. 368 p. ISBN: 978-0-374-53338-0