Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: 'The Pierced Heart' by Lynn Shepherd

✰✰✰✰ After an Austrian nobleman offers a sizable donation to the University of Oxford, private investigator, Charles Maddox, is sent on a quest to vet the mysterious benefactor. Maddox soon discovers that the Viennese countryside is steeped with superstitious tales about the baron and his castle. As the days go by, disturbing dreams and incidents haunt Maddox. After nearly dying, Maddox returns to London where a series of horrific murders have taken place. The deaths are rumored to be the work of a vampire, but Maddox suspects his nemesis, the baron. With another young woman missing, Maddox must race against time to find her before another innocent dies.

The Bottom Line: This is the third book in a series; each book pays homage to a literary classic. This dark installment plays off Bram Stoker's Dracula. Although I have not read the previous books, Shepherd includes plenty of back story so the reader does not feel lost.

This book got off to a slow, smoldering start as I adjusted to the writing style. The story jumps back and forth between different points of view and times. However, the book is full of mystery and intrigue. Shepherd has braided together the elements of superstition, science, and classic literature to create a gripping suspense that I couldn't put down. With the paranormal twist and Gothic mood, this book will appeal to fans of historical fiction. A word of caution though...this tale is not for squeamish readers.

Details: The Pierced Heart: A Novel by Lynn Shepherd. Hardcover published by Delacorte Press in 2014. 256 p. ISBN: 978-0-345-54543-5 NOTE: I received a free copy from Delacorte Press in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Book Review: 'The Easter Bunny That Overslept' by Priscilla & Otto Friedrich

✰✰✰ Children everywhere expect the Easter Bunny to deliver brightly painted eggs every year on Easter Sunday. But one year the Easter Bunny overslept. Upon waking he wondered what to do with all the colored eggs. As the months went by, the Easter Bunny tried delivering the eggs on Mother’s Day, the Fourth of July, and Halloween. None of the children were interested. The poor bunny was very discouraged by the time Christmas arrived. Fortunately, Santa always knows the best way to set things right again.

The Bottom Line: This classic children’s book has been enjoyed and shared by several generations since it was first published in 1957. As the Easter Bunny tries again and again to deliver the eggs, children will learn the importance of never giving up. It’s also a great story for kids who tend to oversleep. The charming, retro illustrations will interest kids and adults alike. Recommended for kids in grades K – 3.

Details: The Easter Bunny That Overslept written by Priscilla and Otto Friedrich & illustrated by Adrienne Adams. Hardcover picture book published by Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books in 1983. 33 p. ISBN: 0-688-01540-9

Friday, April 3, 2015

Book Review: 'The Matzah Man' by Naomi Howland

✰✰✰✰½ In preparation for the seder, a local baker is making Passover matzah. He uses the last scraps of matzah dough to form a little man and pops him in the oven to bake. When the baker opens the oven door, the crispy Matzah Man jumps out and runs away. Taunting people and animals along the way, the Matzah Man narrowly escapes becoming part of the Passover meal. He outwits them all until he meets young Mendel Fox. The Matzah Man is in for a big surprise when clever Mendel offers to help him hide from his pursuers.

The Bottom Line: This humorous and festive tale is a rollicking adaptation of The Gingerbread Boy. This adventure is just plain fun to read with Howland’s use of repetition, rhythm, and rhyme. Additionally, Howland’s cheerful and bright illustrations in gouache and cut-paper collage with colored pencil will appeal to readers of all ages. Check this one out for kids in grades 1 – 3. Includes a “Passover Glossary” at the end.

Details: The Matzah Man: A Passover Story written & illustrated by Naomi Howland. Hardcover picture book published by Clarion Books in 2002. 32 p. ISBN: 0-618-11750-4

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: 'April Fool! Watch Out at School!' by Diane deGroat

✰✰✰✰½ Gilbert has plenty of pranks planned for April Fools’ Day. Unfortunately Gilbert is the one falling for everyone else’s tricks. Even his mother manages to play a joke on him, but the worst tricks come from Lewis the bully. Gilbert has just one trick left. Will it be enough to save the worst April Fools’ Day ever? Read the story to see who gets the last laugh. 

The Bottom Line: This charming and clever book in the series is for anyone who has ever been tricked on April Fools’ Day. Gilbert is a sweet character and a good sport who proves that good guys don’t always finish last. Diane deGroat’s colorful illustrations will make you look twice for the April Fools’ Day surprises they contain. (Answers are included.) Highly recommended for kids in grades K – 2. Great for story time too. 

Details: April Fool! Watch Out at School! (Gilbert and Friends) written & illustrated by Diane deGroat. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2009. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-143043-5   

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: 'The Abbot's Agreement' by Mel Starr

✰✰✰✰✰ Things are not as they should be at tranquil Eynsham Abbey. On his way to Oxford, Hugh de Singleton, surgeon, happens upon the mutilated body of a young Benedictine novice. At the nearby abbey, Hugh learns of a lad who has been missing for four days. Upon further examination of the body, Hugh discovers 'twas not the plague that did him in, but murder. To Hugh's dismay, the abbot commissions him to uncover the culprit in exchange for a Bible. Although the abbot only asks for his best effort, Hugh soon questions his decision to accept. The investigation takes several complicated twists and turns as Hugh seeks a killer and uncovers a sinister secret hidden within Eynsham Abbey.

The Bottom Line: The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon are one of my favorite mystery series. In the 7th installment, Hugh's character continues to evolve as both his family and his responsibilities grow. Like the previous books, this is written in the first person in the form of a journal. This quick read touches on darker topics than previous books, and author Mel Starr includes plenty of red herrings to keep readers guessing. My only complaint is that this installment is too short; I'm already looking forward to the next one. Readers of medieval mysteries and Christian fiction will want to give this series a try. Those new to the series will find ample backstory included without having to read the books in order. A glossary of medieval terms and maps are included.

Details: The Abbot's Agreement (The Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, surgeon) by Mel Starr. Paperback published by Lion Fiction in 2014. 256 p. ISBN: 978-1-78264-109-4 NOTE: I received a free copy from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible via the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Book Review: 'The Last Snake in Ireland' by Sheila MacGill-Callahan

✰✰✰½ Soon-to-be saint Patrick had a problem on his hands. The snakes of Ireland were out of control and bothering everyone. So Patrick used his magic bell to summon all the snakes, and he sent them away to far off lands. Unfortunately, the oldest, most clever snake refused to go. The snake was everywhere Patrick went. Soon it was very clear, the snake must go. But how? Patrick comes up with a surprise plan to best the sneaky serpent. However, don't count the snake out too quickly. It seems the snake has a surprise for Patrick as well.

The Bottom Line: Author Sheila MacGill-Callahan cleverly weaves together two legends (see the Author's Note at the end of the book) to tell an old tale with surprise ending. Will Hillenbrand's colorful, mixed media illustrations in pastels, watercolors, and egg tempura will delight both children and adults alike. Recommended for story time for kids in grade school.

Details: The Last Snake in Ireland: A Story about St. Patrick written by Sheila MacGill-Callahan & illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. Hardcover picture book published by Holiday House in 1999. 32 p. ISBN: 0-8234-1425-6

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: 'Mrs. Kennedy and Me' by Clint Hill

✰✰✰✰ He was the agent assigned to protect her; she was the First Lady. Mrs. Kennedy could have anything she wanted, and she chose Secret Service agent Clint Hill to protect her. Initially, Hill was disappointed in his assignment as he envisioned tea parties and trips to the ballet. However, Hill soon discovered that protecting Mrs. Kennedy was a welcome challenge. She loved water skiing, tennis, and horseback riding. She traveled a lot and spent as little time as possible at the White House. As a spontaneous and adventurous woman, she loved keeping everyone on their toes.

Former Secret Service agent Clint Hill kept his silence for nearly half a century before deciding to tell his story. As Hill explains, Secret Service agents protect their charges during the best and worst of times. Mr. Hill had the privilege of protecting Mrs. Kennedy from 1960 – 1964, a time when she experienced both joy and tragedy. Together, Mr. Hill and Mrs. Kennedy formed a professional relationship based on trust. This is a book about that relationship and a close-up look at the former First Lady’s daily life. Along the way, Hill includes interesting tidbits about everything from Mrs. Kennedy’s travel itineraries to descriptions of her iconic dresses to information about Secret Service protocol. Hill, also, provides insight into the events of “that day in Dallas” when President Kennedy was assassinated.

The Bottom Line: Clint Hill’s personal account of the years he spent protecting Mrs. Kennedy as her Secret Service agent is both engaging and very readable. It is obvious that Hill was very fond of his charge and would have done anything for her. The writing style reflects Hill’s dedication and loyalty to his charge and his job. If you are looking for rumors or scandal, you won’t find it here. Hill’s book reads like a tribute to the former First Lady. Enthusiastically recommended for history buffs and fans of biographies.

Book Club Notes: Overall, the group enjoyed this quick read. Ratings ranged from 3.5 to 5 stars. Our discussion focused on Mrs. Kennedy's quest for privacy in contrast with her active lifestyle. It was interesting to learn how little time she actually spent at the White House. This is a fascinating close-up into the life of one of America's most famous women. Highly recommended for book clubs with a focus on history and biographies. Check out these reading group questions from Simon and Schuster
Details: Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin. Paperback published by Gallery Books in 2012. 344 p. ISBN: 978-1-4516-4846-1