Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine: A Year in Review 2011

It's been another great year of short stories by the best mystery has to offer. Throughout the year I like to keep track of the stories that stood out from the crowd so to speak. Here's a list of the stories I enjoyed the most in 2011:

January/February: First place tie: "The Writing Workshop by Janice Law and "Archie's Escape" by William F. Smith

Runners-up: "The Karnikov Card" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, "The Alchemist" by R. T. Lawton, and "The Gun Also Rises" by Jeffrey Cohen.

March: My absolute favorite story this month was the Mystery Classic by Jack Ritchie. "The Cardula Detective Agency" first appeared in AHMM in March, 1977. I'll have to look up the other stories in the series because I enjoyed this one so much.

Other stories that I enjoyed for March include: "Catchphrase" by Neil Schofield, "The Pain of Others" by Blake Crouch, and "Small Favors" by Steve Lindley.

April: First place goes to John R. Corrigan's short story "Shooter" which had a great twist ending.

Runners-up: "Lost in a Strange Neighborhood" by Elaine Menge and "Sweet Thing Going" by Percy Spurlark Parker.

May: "Pawns" by Janet E. Irvin was my favorite this month.

Runners-up: "Death in Rehab" by B. K. Stevens and "Bankasaurus Rex" by David Dietrich.

June: My favorite for this month was "What Schedule F Told" by Martha Lufkin

Runners-up: "Natural Defenses" by David Hagerty and "Dark Horizons" by Rex Burns.

July/August Double issue: "Comedy Ann" by Dan Warthman

Runners-up: "Effleman the Psychic" by Kevin Mims, "The Real Celebrities" by Michael Mallory, "Change the Ending" by Terence Faherty, and "The Fact" by Alan Gordon.

September: My favorite short story of the year so far is "Thicker Than Blood" by Doug Allyn; absolutely excellent.

Runner-up: "A New Pair of Pants" by Jas. R. Petrin. I also really enjoyed the Mystery Classic feature for this month, "The Day of the Bullet" by Stanley Ellin. I'll have to check out more of his work.

October: There were only five stories featured this month; of which my favorites were "Swimming in Fog" by John C. Boland and "Labor Day" by R. T. Lawton.

November: Of the six stories featured this month, my two favorites were "The Burning Grounds" by Shelley Costa and "Meltdown" by John H. Dirckx.

December: This issue also had only six stories. My favorites were "No Fences" by Eve Fischer, "First Death on Mars" by Joe Calabrese, and "Plain Reckless" by Scott Mackay.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

✰✰✰✰✰ The magic of Christmas has come to Buckshaw, and Flavia is devising a plan to catch Father Christmas in the act of delivering Christmas gifts. However, she gets distracted from her mission and finds herself surrounded by chaos when a film company arrives at the estate. With the rest of the family conveniently occupied with other activities, Flavia finds herself acting as a one person welcoming party and befriends the one and only Phyllis Wyvern, a very famous actress of film.

At the urging of the vicar, Phyllis and her co-star Desmond Duncan agree to perform an act from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to help with raising funds for the church roof. Buckshaw becomes the unlikely backdrop for the play, and nearly the whole village of Bishop's Lacey is gathered at the de Luce family estate for the performance. Meanwhile, a blizzard blows into town and strands everyone at the estate. When someone ends up murdered in the dead of night, everyone suddenly becomes a suspect. Can Flavia and the police discover who the culprit is before someone else ends up dead or hurt? Pick up the fourth installment of the Flavia de Luce mysteries to find out.

The Bottom Line: The sleuthing antics of amateur chemist Flavia de Luce are always a fun read. This installment is full of excitement with the added festivities of Christmas. Although Flavia can be wise beyond her years at times, we see the little girl shine through in her plot to capture Father Christmas. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel is a fast paced read that will get you in the mood for the holidays. The mystery takes more than a few interesting twists and turns in this house party style whodunit. Very highly recommended for both adult and young adult fans of cozy mysteries.

Details: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley. Hardcover published by Delacorte Press (an imprint of Random House Publishing Group) in 2011. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-34401-2 Note: I received an advance uncorrected proof from Random House in exchange for a review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book Review: The Orphan of Awkward Falls by Keith Graves

✰✰✰✰½ The Cravitz family moves around a lot, and it's with some trepidation that thirteen year old Josephine finds herself in Awkward Falls, a small town in northern Canada. After all, who wants to live in an small, old town that smells like sauerkraut? It isn't long before Josephine stumbles upon a mystery in the gloomy house next door.

The current occupant, Thaddeus, is a boy who conducts his own mad scientist type experiments and resurrects dead pets while he waits for his parents to return. But the story gets even weirder. Awkward Falls is soon on the alert when cannibal Fetid Stenchley escapes from the Asylum for the Dangerously Insane. Years ago Thaddeus' grandfather was murdered by Stenchley, who worked as a lab assistant. Now that Stenchley is on the loose, he has nowhere to go but to the only place he knows as home.

With time running out and danger around every corner, Josephine, Thaddeus, an automaton, and a talking cat must join forces to solve the mystery of Thaddeus' lineage and escape from Stenchley's evil plans. The Orphan of Awkward Falls is a fun and entertaining adventure filled with action. In addition to the darkness of the story, I especially enjoyed the contrast between Josephine's healthy vegan lifestyle and Thaddeus' candy filled one - clever!

The Bottom Line: This quirky mystery is full of gruesome fun. With the peculiar characters and the themes of friendship and family, Keith Graves' first novel is a winner. It's the perfect read for teens who love books that are a bit unusual with some gore thrown in for good measure. Graves' black and white illustrations are fantastically dark and add to the story. In fact, the book cleverly begins and ends with the illustrations rather than text. This quick paced read is highly recommended for teens in grades 8 and up as well as for adults who like reading something just a little different and morbid. Note: According to the publisher, this book is recommended for kids ages 8 to 12. However, due to some of the gore and violence depicted in a few scenes, it might not be suitable for younger kids who are a bit squeamish or sensitive.

Details: The Orphan of Awkward Falls by Keith Graves. Hardcover published by Chronicle Books LLC in 2011. 256 p. ISBN: 9780811878142 Note: I received a complimentary copy from Chronicle Books in exchange for a review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine: A Year in Review 2011

It's been another great year of short stories in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. To make it even better this was the 70 year anniversary. As with last year, I kept a list of my favorite stories in each issue so that I can make my selections for the 2011 EQMM Readers Award. There's still time to get your ballot in if you haven't already done so. Ballots must be postmarked no later than December 2, 2011, so get yours in the mail today!

Here's the list of my favorite short stories for 2011:

January: "The Tall Blonde with the Hot Boiler" by Harley Mazuk, which was the Black Mask feature this month.

Runners-up: "Where the Snow Lay Dinted" by Sue Pike, "Mr. Bo" by Lisa Cody, and "The Advent Reunion" by Andrew Klavan. Also, I enjoyed "The Wood Thief" by Swedish journalist Liza Marklund in the Passport to Crime section.

February: "Beer Money" by Shane Nelson

Runners-up: "Dear Murderer" by Susan Breen, "Seeing Red" by Amy Myers, and "A Study in Scarlatti" by Donald A. Yates. I, also, enjoyed this month's Passport to Crime selection: "Signed "Mutual Trust"" by Richard Macker which was originally printed in Norwegian in 1975.

March/April: My favorite story this month is one of Edward D. Hoch's best stories, "The Long Way Down." I would highly recommend reading it.

Second place: "The Last Days of the Hols" by Robert Barnard.

Runners-up: "The Mentor" by Dave Zeltserman, "Vanishing Act" by Christine Poulson, "Cheating the Hangman" by Judith Cutler, "Tap-Tap" by David Dean, "Icarus" by C. J. Harper, "Lie Like a Rug" by Margaret Maron, and "Half-Lives" by Tim L. Williams.

May: Scott Loring Sanders' "Jim Limey's Confession" was an excellent read.

Second place: "Dolly's Trash and Treasures" by Lawrence Block

Runners-up: "Turning Leo" by Clark Howard and the Passport to Crime feature: "The Wait" by Sunny Singh.

June: My favorite for this month was "A Game of Patience" by Caroline Benton.

Second: "The Killing of Stacey Janes" by Robert S. Levinson

I also enjoyed "The Appointment" by Maynard Allington and "The Chatelaine Bag" by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

July: "The New Slavery" by Robert Barnard. I think many grandparents and caregivers will be able to relate to this story.

Runners-up: "Tomorrow's Dead" by David Dean and "Mr. Monk and the Sunday Paper" by Lee Goldberg

August: My favorite story for this month was "Praying Mantis" by David Dean.

Runners-up: "Murder of a Muffin Man" by Amy Myers, "Something Rather Fishy" by Marilyn Todd, and "Some People Deserve to Die" by Dave Zeltserman.

September/October: This month was a tie for my favorite short story: "Man Cave" by Bill Pronzini and "Hangman's Rhapsody" by Clark Howard.

Runners-up: "The Children" by Lia Matera, "Witness Protection" by Brendan DuBois, "Hedge Hog" by Hilary Davidson, and "A Hostage Situation" by Dave Zeltserman, which featured a seasonal Halloween twist ending.

November: "Beach Girl" by P.N. Elrod was excellent!

Runners-up: "The Intell Club" by Richard Macker in the Passport to Crime Department was a great story. Also, I enjoyed "The Tardy Guest" by Brendan DuBois.

The reprint of "The Adventure of the One-Penny Black" by Ellery Queen was fun too.

December: My favorite story for this month was "The Investigation of Boyfriend #17" by Maureen Keenan-Mason.

The haunting short story, "In Waiting," by A.N. Roland was a close second.

With so many great stories it was difficult to choose the one I liked the best, but there was one standout. My favorite story for this year was "Beach Girl" by P.N. Elrod. My second choice is "Jim Limey's Confession" by Scott Loring Sanders.

May the best story win!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

✰✰✰✰½ Ransom Riggs masterfully weaves together the strange tale of an abandoned orphanage on a mysterious island with a collection of peculiar vintage photographs.

As a boy Jacob "Jake" Portman's grandfather used to show him fantastical photos of kids doing extraordinary things. The stories his grandfather told of the photos were like fairy tales to Jake. But as Jake grows up he becomes disillusioned his grandfather's ramblings.

All that changes when Jake finds his grandfather after he has been attacked. As he lies dying he whispers, "Find the bird. In the loop. On the other side of the old man's grave. September 3, 1940." Jake has no idea what those words mean, but after his grandfather's horrific death, he is plagued by the type of nightmares that make one scream. In an effort to try to make sense of his dreams and his grandfather's last request, Jake convinces his parents to let him visit the remote island off the coast of Wales where his grandfather once lived before World War II.

Once there Jake explores an abandoned orphanage, where he comes face to face with some of the mysteries from his grandfather's life. Jake's search to make sense of his grandfather's last words becomes an adventure you won't easily forget.

The Bottom Line: Ransom Riggs' first novel is hauntingly beautiful and deliciously creepy. It will draw you in and leave you wanting more. The text and photographs work fascinatingly well together in this strange coming-of-age story featuring friendship, the supernatural, and time travel. Very highly recommended for both young adults and adults looking for something a little bit different to read.

Details: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Hardcover published by Quirk Books in 2011. 352 p. ISBN: 978-1-59474-476-1

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo: A Month of Writing Dangerously

Let's be honest, I had thought about signing up for NaNoWriMo for many and probably thousands of other people. After all...who doesn't want to be novelist? Somewhere deep in the subconscious lurks a desire to become the famous writer who sets his own schedules and writes whatever pleases him. Maybe one day that will be you...or maybe it will be me. Who knows? One thing is for sure though, we'll never know without trying.

So when I finally got the nerve to sign-up in 2009, I thought it would be a piece of cake. I mean, I had been a columnist, and I had already completed my master's thesis. All I had to do was fire up the laptop and pound away at the keys every night for 30 nights until I reached 50,000 words or more. What could be easier?

Little did I know what I was getting myself into. I kind of had a plot, so I thought I was ready to go. That first year in 2009, I had signed up a few days late, which is perfectly fine and since I was highly motivated I thought I could very quickly make up for lost time. Unfortunately, I just as quickly found out that "No plot? No problem!" was indeed a problem for me. I'm embarrassed to say that I got stuck after only about 400 words. It was writer's block at its finest.

You, dear reader, might be laughing at this point or maybe you are sympathizing. I take full responsibility for my failure. Either way you can learn from my mistakes. Here are a few simple things you can do to make the NaNoWriMo experience a success:

  • Sign up early. Get to know the site and how it works.

  • Have an outline. It doesn't need to be detailed, but obviously the more detail the better.

  • Designate a time and a place to write every day. Keep to a schedule if possible.

  • Stock your writing place with everything you need: paper, pens, pencils, snacks, music, etc.

  • Go ahead and put up that "Do Not Disturb" sign; it's OK...really.

  • When in doubt write about scenery or fill in details about your characters.

  • There is no rule that says you have to write your scenes in order. Pick which ever scene strikes your fancy that day and write to your heart's content.

  • Resist the temptation to check your email or play with your smartphone.

  • Give yourself permission to take breaks.

  • Try writing in short bursts like 30 minutes at a time or 750 words at a time.

  • Write with a group; find a write-in near you.

  • Ignore those typos.

  • Remember...there's no editing. You will have time for that after the holidays.

  • And finally...don't procrastinate. Just do it!
So what happened in 2010, you might ask? Well, I followed my own advice from above. All through the summer of 2010, I worked on creating a story outline for a project I called Dance Hall Days. I also got to know my characters and made a list of potential scenes. Not all of the characters or scenes made it into the raw draft, but I did complete 50,000+ words. I let my raw draft "rest" over the holidays, and I pulled it out again in the Spring. I spent the next 6 months turning the raw draft into the first "real" draft. And you know what? It's starting to look pretty good, if I do say so myself. With any luck, one day soon you'll see Dance Hall Days in print. In the mean time, I have a whole new story outline complete with a new cast of characters. This year I'm focusing on a cozy mystery for my 2011 NaNoWriMo project; it's called Murder Mystery Mayhem.

Good Luck to all participants in NaNoWriMo 2011 !!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cookbook Review: Beyond Delicious: The Ghost Whisperer's Cookbook by Mary Ann Winkowski

✰✰✰½ How often have you ever yearned for Grandma Sue's lost recipe for meatloaf or Aunt Julie's misplaced recipe for sugar cookies? Perhaps your dearly departed loved one bequeathed her recipes to your sister, but the copies she gave you were "changed" and just didn't turn out right. For those of us who have ever searched in vain for a lost recipe, this book is for you.

Just in time for Halloween, Mary Ann Winkowski, the ghost whisperer herself, brings us Beyond Delicious, a book that is a collection of both recipes and ghost stories. Mary Ann is frequently called in to deal with troublesome earthbound spirits, and interestingly enough these ghosts sometimes share recipes before crossing over. This is a collection of just such recipes and the ghost stories related to each.

The Bottom Line: Beyond Delicious is an interesting collection of ghost stories and recipes. It is both informative and fun to read. Not only did I find several fun recipes to try, but I learned about earthbound spirits as well. The recipes themselves are unique including several ethnic dishes and older recipes. Many of the recipes require some previous cooking or baking knowledge as directions received from spirits can be a bit vague. Also, there were several typos here and there. Overall, this is a unique book that will entice both cooks and readers interested in stories from the beyond.

Details: Beyond Delicious: The Ghost Whisperer's Cookbook: More than 100 recipes from the Dearly Departed by Mary Ann Winkowski and David Powers. Paperback published by Clerisy Press in 2011. 300 p. ISBN: 978-1-57860-499-9 Note: I received a complimentary copy from Clerisy Press in exchange for a review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: Torn by Lee Thomas

✰✰✰✰½ Luther's Bend is a quiet, tiny town where very little happens. Despite a rocky marriage and personal trouble, Sheriff Bill Cranston has the responsibility to ensure the safety of the town's citizens. Unfortunately, his world begins to fall apart when little Maggie Louise Mayflower disappears one evening.

As the town organizes a search for the little girl, Cranston realizes too late that Maggie was only being used as bait when a member of the search is taken. Soon a naked stranger named Douglas Sykes is taken into custody, and Cranston begins to uncover a truth that is stranger than fiction. Sykes claims to be a creature of sorts that is being hunted by a pack of his kind. The pack will stop at nothing, destroying everything in its path, until their prey is killed. Unless Cranston and his men can stop the pack, the townspeople, including Cranston's own family, are doomed.

The Bottom Line: You'll want to sleep with the lights on after reading this one. This tightly written novella features a nice balance of story and plot that will keep you in suspense until the end. As Book 23 in the Cemetery Dance Novella Series, it also features fantastically realistic and gruesome black and white illustrations by Vincent Chong. Torn contains graphic descriptions of violence and is highly recommended for mature fans of horror who enjoy stories with a little twist of sadness.

Details: Torn by Lee Thomas. Advance Uncorrected Proof published by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2011. 130 p. ISBN: 978-1-58767-265-1

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: Amazonas by Alan Peter Ryan

✰✰✰½ Henrietta fears the search will never end. Her husband, Edwin, has become obsessed with finding what is known as The Slave Tree. Few people ever return from this journey. But while the pursuit for The Slave Tree strikes fear in Henrietta's heart, she must face something even more frightening. Deep in the forests of the Amazonas, all Henrietta can do is watch as her husband succumbs to his obsession and grows closer to insanity every day. As the only woman on the journey, she fears what will happen to her if she loses Edwin so far away from humanity. At the end of their journey, Henrietta must face the dark secrets of The Slave Tree as she discovers what can drive a person mad.

The Bottom Line: While Amazonas gets off to a slow start, the tension builds with a smoldering intensity like the heat of the jungle; I simply couldn't put it down. Dark and disturbing, this one will stay with you for a while. Due to violence, this short tale is recommended for mature audiences who enjoy horror.

Details: Amazonas by Alan Peter Ryan. Advance Uncorrected Proof published by Cemetery Dance in 2011. 124 p. ISBN: 978-1-58767-233-0

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Book Review: Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

✰✰✰✰✰ Kendra and her younger brother Seth are just two regular kids being shipped off to spend time with their grandparents during the summer. Sounds boring, but what they don't realize is that Fablehaven is a fantastical place filled with both magic and danger. Fablehaven is a refuge of sorts, a kind of sanctuary if you will, but not for normal creatures. The creatures protected by Fablehaven are magical, and Kendra and Seth's grandpa is the last caretaker.

Needless to say, there are lots of rules at Fablehaven. It's not too long before the kids venture outside of the bounds set by their Grandpa and get into loads of trouble. After all, basking by the pool all day eventually gets boring, and kids will be kids. Seth especially seems to have a knack for getting into trouble. Unfortunately, when rules get broken, there is a price to pay. The evil that is released wreaks havoc upon Fablehaven and threatens to spill over into the world.

Join Kendra and Seth on the adventure of a lifetime as they encounter witches, trolls, imps, fairies, satyrs, and other creatures in order to save their family and the sanctuary of Fablehaven.

The Bottom Line: Fablehaven is an enchanting fantasy that you won't be able to put down. This first book in the series is fantastic, and I can't wait to read more. I don't know how I missed this series when it first came out a few years ago. Kids will love the characters and the mythical creatures. It's simply magic. Also, the theme of love overcoming all obstacles and the importance of family make this one a winner. Highly recommended for kids and tweens in grades 5 - 8. This would make a great movie.

Details: Fablehaven by Brandon Mull. Paperback published by
Aladdin Paperbacks in 2006. 368 p. ISBN: 978-1-4169-4720-2

P.S. A special thank you goes out to
Draak, my SantaThing secret Santa at LibraryThing, for picking this out for me last Christmas. I loved it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: The Very Best Pumpkin by Mark Kimball Moulton

✰✰✰✰✰ Have you ever searched high and low for a pumpkin, but just couldn't find the right one? There are big ones and small ones, short ones and tall ones. In fact, there are all kinds of pumpkins, but there's only one best pumpkin of all.

Peter lives on Pumpkin Hollow Farm and tends vegetables with his grandparents. All through the summer he watches over different crops. However, it's the pumpkins that are the most wonderful. When Peter discovers one lonely little pumpkin growing all by itself, he decides to make it his special project. He spends so much time caring for his special pumpkin that he doesn't notice his new neighbor Meg. When harvest time comes around, Peter must decide what to do with his special pumpkin. Will he keep it for himself or find someone else to give it a home? Check out this picture book to find out for yourself.

The Bottom Line: Every child dreams of finding the very best pumpkin. However, sometimes finding it is a challenge and you need a little help. When Peter helps Meg find her special pumpkin, a friendship is born. The Very Best Pumpkin is the perfect Fall treat for story time featuring the theme of friendship and beautiful watercolor illustrations. Very highly recommended for kids in grades Pre-K - 2. Also, it includes Peter's guide to growing your own very best pumpkin.

Details: The Very Best Pumpkin written by Mark Kimball Moulton & illustrated by Karen Hillard Good. Hardcover published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 9781416982883

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book Review: The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

✰✰✰ ½ Mackie Doyle just wants to fit in. Unfortunately, no matter how hard he tries, he never will. You see, Mackie is different from the others...he's a replacement. It happened when he was just a baby. According to his sister, Emma, her baby brother, Malcolm Doyle, was taken from his crib and something else was left in his place. Usually the replacements die soon afterwards, but not Mackie. He grew up.

While the sleepy town of Gentry seems like any other, it hides a dark secret. Every seven years a baby is taken and replaced with something not human, just like Mackie. This year Tate Stewart's baby sister Natalie was taken in the night. Tate confronts Mackie in the hopes of finding answers, but instead Mackie finds himself facing the unwanted truth about himself.

For sixteen years the town has done its best to ignore Mackie's differences. However, it's time for a change. In his quest to find answers, Mackie is drawn into a strange underground world filled with frightful creatures. Mackie must decide which world he belongs in as he struggles to help Tate.

The Bottom Line: Mackie Doyle is a peculiar, lonely and likeable hero just struggling to fit in. A strong theme of friendship in times of adversity shines through this eerie and gothic tale. This quick read is recommended for teens who enjoy stories about the supernatural with a twist of romance. Note to parents: This book does contain some strong language and scenes of teenage drinking.

Details: The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff. Hardcover published by
Razorbill in 2010. 352 p. ISBN: 978-1-59514-337-2

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Book Review: Four Legs in the Morning by Norman Prentiss

✰✰✰✰½ This slim little book features three delightfully wicked stories by horror author Norman Prentiss. All 3 stories (or curiosities as they are named) are woven around Dr. Sibley, who is the eccentric and evil Chair of the English and Classical Literature Department at Graysonville University. While Dr. Sibley may seem meek and outdated, those who disappoint or dismiss him quickly learn that he is more than he appears.

Those who risk suffering the consequences of Dr. Sibley include a new professor who dares to uncover an ancient riddle, a student who thinks that plagiarism is the key to success, and a young college administrator who discovers the mysterious reasons for his predecessor's hasty departure. Will they learn their lessons before it is too late or will they succumb to the wrath of Dr. Sibley?

The Bottom Line: This compact book is part of the Cemetery Dance Signature Series which features collectible books by some of today's best horror authors. Four Legs in the Morning is a quick read that will leave you begging for more. The dark illustrations add to the overall eerie feeling of the book. Highly recommended reading for fans of horror fiction. And just in case you were wondering, my favorite curiosity was "Flannel Board;" it brought back lots of memories.

Details: Four Legs in the Morning by Norman Prentiss. Illustrated by Steven C. Gilberts. Advance uncorrected proof published by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2011. 108 p. ISBN: 978-1-58767-258-3

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum

✰✰✰½ "Dick is dead." Thus, begins Meldrum's latest novel, Amaryllis in Blueberry. Set mostly in the 1970s, we follow the Slepy family as they escape their secrets and head off to Africa. The Slepys aren't your average family. There's Seena, who is self-absorbed and doesn't pay much attention to her family. Dick, the father, is obsessed with Seena to the point where he must have total control over her. Then there are the three daughters all named Mary, each with their own secrets and rebellions. The youngest, Amaryllis, is different from all the rest. Not only is she dark complected with blueberry eyes, but as a synesthete she sees things the others don't.

As the family grows accustomed to their new life in Africa, each member begins to unravel. Follow the twists and turns of this story to discover how Dick ends up dead as the story begins with the end. This is a book with a little bit of everything: murder, infidelity, secrets, lies, an unplanned pregnancy, and inter-racial relationships. In fact, it's the secrets that propel this story forward.

The Bottom Line: This book moves back and forth between two worlds, Michigan and Africa, and seems to shift time and space with ample flashbacks. It is told from multiple points of view; as the narrators change, the story builds. Each person adds a little piece of the puzzle. At times I found this dysfunctional family to be both fascinating and repelling. While the imagery is vivid and beautiful, I found it difficult to like the Slepy family. This is a challenging read, but worth the effort for those who enjoy contemporary, literary fiction and coming of age tales. There is a strong use of symbolism with references to both religion and mythology. This book was different from anything else I've read, which made it interesting. It would be a great pick for a book club; a reading guide is included with discussion questions and a conversation with the author.

Details: Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum. Paperback published by Gallery Books in 2011. 384 p. ISBN: 978-1439156896 Note: I received a free copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

✰✰✰✰ Amateur sleuth and chemist, Flavia de Luce, is back in her third mystery. When Flavia accidentally sets a gypsy's tent on fire at the town fête, she decides that the least she can do is to allow the old woman and her caravan to stay on the de Luce family property. Unfortunately, Flavia had no way of knowing that the gypsy had previously been blamed for a child's disappearance many years ago. When the gypsy is attacked and beaten in the middle of the night, it's up to Flavia to figure out why. The investigation heats up when the gypsy's granddaughter, Porcelain, shows up and one of Flavia's suspects turns up dead. Flavia must figure out if the crimes are connected while uncovering many other secrets along the way.

The Bottom Line: The Flavia de Luce mystery series is one of my favorites. Like the first two books, A Red Herring Without Mustard, is an engaging tale told from Flavia's point of view. Flavia's passions for chemistry (especially poisons) and forensics continue to grow. As clever, spunky, and independent as ever, Flavia is growing up fast and at times can seem wise beyond her years. However, with this book Flavia's father and older sister, Ophelia, start to show some concern for the neglected 11 year old. Also, we get to learn more about the secrets of the family estate, Buckshaw. This quick read is highly recommended for everyone who loves cozy mysteries. It is appropriate for young adult and adult mystery fans.

Details: A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley. Hardcover published by Delacorte Press in 2011. 400 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-34232-2

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Review: Fractions = Trouble! by Claudia Mills

✰✰✰✰ Everyone has something they need to work extra hard at to learn. For some it's spelling, for others it's science, and for third grader Wilson Williams, it's math. Oh, and not just any math...FRACTIONS! Luckily (or unluckily depending on how you look at it) Wilson's parents hire a math tutor to help out.

As Wilson tries to keep his struggles and the tutor a secret, his friendship with his best friend, Josh, begins to suffer. As Wilson learns about fractions, he is reminded of the importance of friends and family along the way.

The Bottom Line: This quick read is for everyone who has ever struggled to learn something. The themes of family, friendship, and overcoming challenges make this book a winner for kids in grades 2 - 4. Highly recommended for both kids and parents.

Details: Fractions = Trouble! written by Claudia Mills & illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Hardcover published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2011. 128 p. ISBN: 978-0-374-36716-9

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Review: Murder Most Persuasive: A Mystery by Tracy Kiely

✰✰✰✰ This fun whodunit centers around the crime solving adventures of Elizabeth Parker, an amateur sleuth and Jane Austen fan. After Elizabeth's uncle dies, a body is discovered underneath the swimming pool of the recently sold family home. The family is shocked to learn that the body is none other than Cousin Reggie's former husband-to-be, who disappeared eight years earlier under suspicion of embezzlement.

Soon Elizabeth settles in to help her Cousin Ann get Uncle Marty's affairs in order. The intrigue heats up when Ann's former boyfriend, Detective Muldoon, shows up to investigate the case. Unfortunately, it seems that just about everyone is a suspect. Although Elizabeth's aunt and boyfriend try to discourage her from getting involved in another mystery, Elizabeth has no choice but to help when her sister, Kit, catches the crime solving bug.

Murder Most Persuasive: A Mystery includes an entertaining cast of characters. The action is lively, and there's a little for everyone: sibling rivalry, romance, family secrets, and, of course, murder.

The Bottom Line: This is the third book featuring amateur sleuth Elizabeth Parker, who tells the story in a chatty style. Parker is an avid fan of Jane Austen, and the story is peppered with many references to Austen's works, especially Persuasion. This was the first book in the series that I have read, and I look forward to reading more. I enjoyed the family dynamics of this clever and witty mystery. Murder Most Persuasive: A Mystery is lots of fun; it's a great weekend read. Highly recommended for fans of cozy mysteries. Fans of Jane Austen may also want to check out this series.

Details: Murder Most Persuasive: A Mystery by Tracy Kiely. 304 p. ISBN: 978-0-312-69941-3 Note: I received a complimentary advance uncorrected proof from Minotaur Books in exchange for a review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Review: Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact by A. J. Hartley

✰✰✰✰½ Soon after the death of his parents, young Darwen Arkwright finds himself transplanted from northern England to Atlanta, GA. As if that's not enough, his well-intentioned aunt enrolls him in Hillside Academy, an expensive private school that's unlike any other.

When Darwen receives a mysterious antique mirror on loan from the equally mysterious shop owner, Mr. Peregrine, the adventure begins. After sun down that night Darwen is stunned to discover a secret forest accessible through the mirror. Soon Darwen learns that this other world named Silbrica is quickly being demolished at an alarming rate by creatures called Scrobblers. When Darwen learns that his own world is at risk, it's up to him and his new friends Alexandra and Rich to save both worlds before it's too late.

The Bottom Line: A. J. Hartley's new YA book is a highly entertaining and quick read with plenty of action. The themes of friendship and the power of love shine through this fantastical story. There is plenty of middle school angst to keep the dialogue interesting and the characters are fun as well. I hope there are more books to come; I look forward to seeing the characters grow.

If you enjoyed reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, give this one a try. Enthusiastically recommended for kids in grades 4 - 8. Also, recommended for both public and school libraries. While the target audience is boys, this will appeal to girls as well.

Details: Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact by A. J. Hartley. ARC published by
Razorbill (Penguin Group) in 2011. 448 p. ISBN: 978-1-59514-409-6 Note: I received a complimentary Advance Readers Copy from Penguin Group for review purposes. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Book Review: The Body in the Gazebo by Katherine Hall Page

✰✰✰✰ Amateur sleuth Faith Fairchild is back with not just one, but two mysteries to solve. Faith is a busy minister's wife and mom of two who runs a catering business on the side. However, when her best friend must leave her elderly mother's bedside to meet her future in-laws, Faith agrees to check in on her. Ursula Rowe takes advantage of her daughter's absence by sharing a story with Faith that is full of mystery and intrigue. Faith has no idea that the seemingly innocent trip down memory lane will involve an unsolved murder and threats of blackmail.

Meanwhile, the disappearance of $10,000 from the church discretionary fund that only Faith's husband, the Reverend Thomas Fairchild, has access to leaves him in a pickle. Thus, Faith must solve both a mystery from the past and one from the present. Is she up to the double challenge? We'll find out in this entertaining read full of secrets.

The Bottom Line: This is the first book that I have read in the series. Page does a great job of filling in the back stories of the characters, so I was able to pick it up without missing a beat. While The Body in the Gazebo gets off to a slow start, it is a quick weekend read that's perfect for the beach. Besides the two main mysteries there are lots of secrets and several subplots to keep the reader interested. While the ending was a bit predictable, this book was so much fun that I definitely plan to read the series from the beginning. Highly recommended for mystery fans who love cozies. Also, several appetizing recipes are included.

Details: The Body in the Gazebo: A Faith Fairchild Mystery by Katherine Hall Page. Hardcover published by William Morrow in 2011. 272 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-147426-2 Note: I received a complimentary copy from
William Morrow (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) in exchange for a review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cookbook Review: Ice Pop Joy by Anni Daulter

✰✰✰✰ Frozen treats are a summertime staple, and there's still plenty of time to whip up a few of these healthy and tasty pops. This cookbook highlights treats that are "organic, healthy, fresh, and delicious." Each recipe features ingredients that are natural including the sweeteners. With just a few ingredients and a few simple steps, your kids can assist in making their very own icy treats. Choose from fruit, veggie, yogurt, tofu, herbal tea, chocolate, and specialty pops in a variety of flavors. With clever names like Blackberry Swirl, Bing Cherry Tofu Pop, and Lavender Flower Power you'll have fun just deciding which one to try. Each pop recipe also features a full-color photo. Additionally, the book is full of clever tips and facts.

The Bottom Line: Author Anni Daulter proves that healthy can also be cool and yummy. This collection of recipes is the perfect way to get your little ones, tweens, and teens to eat fruit, veggies, and even a little protein. Highly recommended for tasty summertime fun.

Details: Ice Pop Joy by Anni Daulter. Hardcover published by Sellers Publishing in 2011. 128 p. ISBN: 978-1-4162-0625-5

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review: Dress Your Gingerbread by Joanna Farrow

✰✰✰✰ Gingerbread cookies are a scrumptious Christmas holiday treat, but with Joanna Farrow's book, Dress Your Gingerbread: Bake Them! Dress Them! Eat Them!, you can enjoy them any time of the year. Farrow begins with a simple recipe that makes four cookies. The instructional chapters include step-by-step instructions with photos to illustrate the techniques. Each different cookie features ingredients, directions, and equipment needed to create it; plus, each has a large full-color photograph you can refer to.

The Bottom Line: Have fun with gingerbread any time of the year by choosing different costumes to dress your cookies in. This book is chock full of ideas for cookies the little ones will love to eat. Choose from insects, animals, fairy tale creatures, and traditional holiday themes (I'm partial to the cute dinosaur myself). Also, the book includes templates and a source list. My only suggestion is that the information on Useful Equipment should have been placed first so that bakers can gather all the necessary tools. Enthusiastically recommended for bakers with moderate to advanced experience because fondant can be tricky.

Details: Dress Your Gingerbread: Bake Them! Dress Them! Eat Them! by Joanna Farrow. Paperback published by Spruce in 2010. 128 p. ISBN: 978-1-84601-369-0

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Review: Olivia Claus by Kama Einhorn

✰✰✰ Olivia is back in her own Christmas story. It's the day before Christmas, when Olivia and Ian try to decide what they want from Santa. Ian wants a robot for his robot, but Olivia can't decide. Suddenly she discovers that her most treasured toy, Mathilda, is missing. They go searching, but can't find Mathilda anywhere. Along the way they discover that other things are missing as well.

Later that night Santa visits, but the items are still missing. Olivia imagines herself as Olivia Claus so she can return all the lost things to those who lost them. Will she ever find her beloved Mathilda? Read this cute Christmas tale to find out.

The Bottom Line: Olivia Claus is a cute holiday bedtime story for the little ones. I especially liked the feel of the colorful embossed pages. Recommended for kids ages 4 - 8.

Details: Olivia Claus by Kama Einhorn. Hardcover picture book published by Simon Spotlight in 2010. 24 p. ISBN: 978-1-4424-0662-9

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review: It's Christmas, David! by David Shannon

✰✰✰✰ Christmas is on the way, but as many kids know it's so very hard to stay out of trouble. Everyone says 'No' to David as he fears being put on Santa's naughty list. There are so many rules to follow: no peeking, be patient, sit up straight, and so many more. When Christmas finally arrives, will Santa deliver presents to David or will he end up with a lump of coal? Read this quick holiday story and find out.

The Bottom Line: A very quick and fun story to read on Christmas Eve. Author David Shannon illustrates the angst lots of kids share as they try to avoid Santa's naughty list. Also, kids will enjoy the kid-like drawings and scribbles. Recommended for kids ages 4 - 6.

Details: It's Christmas, David! by David Shannon. Hardcover picture book published by The Blue Sky Press (an imprint of Scholastic Inc.) in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-545-14311-0

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Book Review: Ten Christmas Wishes by Claire Freedman

✰✰✰✰ Your little one will love counting the Christmas wishing stars with Little Mouse and her friends. One by one each animal finds that wishes really do come true as each one shares their wishes of snow, family, trees, pies, presents, and more. Perhaps, there's even a Christmas wish for you.

The Bottom Line: Share the joy of wishing with this Christmas themed counting book. Charming, colorful illustrations follow the verses as rabbits, bears, squirrels, and more join in the Christmas fun. Recommended with enthusiasm for kids ages 2 - 5.

Details: Ten Christmas Wishes written by Claire Freedman & illustrated by Gail Yerrill. Hardcover published by Good Books in 2010. 24 p. ISBN: 978-1561486984

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review: Christmas Delicious by Lyn Loates

✰✰✰✰½ Two little mice named Raisin and Rice live in the storeroom of Zanzibar's Deli. With food galore, the two create a long list and plan a great feast. They mix and bake and brew and stew. Next they clean and polish until everything sparkles. They even trim a huge tree. Christmas morning arrives with fresh snow and quiet, but, alas, it seems that it's much too quiet. Something is not right. Something is missing, but what could it be? So they check their list and can't believe what's not there. How could they have missed it, the most important ingredient of all? Read this delightful book and discover for yourself what the missing ingredient is for a perfect Christmas celebration.

The Bottom Line: With catchy rhymes and festive, yummy illustrations, Christmas Delicious is sure to please even the grumpiest little readers. This picture book demonstrates the values of friendship and sharing. Also, a yummy recipe for Raisin and Rice Christmas Treats is included. Highly recommended for the young (kids in grades 1 - 4) and the young at heart.

Details: Christmas Delicious written by Lyn Loates and illustrated by Mark Jones. Hardcover published by Blue Apple Books in 2010. 40 p. ISBN: 978-1-60905-049-8

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book Review: Silent Night by Juliet Groom

✰✰✰✰ Take a walk through the forest with a mama bear and her cub as they share a magical Christmas Eve together experiencing the joys of the forest. As they wait for dawn, the two stop to appreciate the flowers, mountains, and stars and learn about love along the way.

The Bottom Line: This charming picture book weaves a story around the classic German Christmas carol, "Silent Night." Author Juliet Groom does a lovely job emphasizing the themes of love and peace as the bears experience a night full of wonder and hope. Tim Warnes' beautiful watercolor illustrations in soft hues of blues, greens, and purples add to the magic of the story. This is a great book to read at bedtime to kids ages 3 - 6.

Details: Silent Night by Juliet Groom and Tim Warnes. Hardcover published by Good Books in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1-56148-697-7

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book Review: The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes

✰✰✰½ Not long after their Da dies in an accident, Bronwen, Dylan, and their Mam move to Liverpool in the 1930s. Mam must take in other people's laundry to support the two children. As the little family adjusts to life in the city, they keep mostly to themselves. Although Mam tries hard not to leave the children alone, sometimes she must go out without them. One of these times just happens to be Christmas Eve. The unattended children hear a frightful and ghostly noise coming from the washhouse. Too scared to investigate, they run outside and into their neighbor, Mrs. O'Riley. With some neighborly help, the family learns to overlook differences and appreciate the friendship and kindness offered.

The Bottom Line: This charming picture book highlights the themes of friendship and being neighborly in a time of adversity. This heartwarming tale is beautifully illustrated in ink and soft watercolors. Enthusiastically recommended for kids in grades 2 - 4.

Details: The Christmas Eve Ghost written & illustrated by Shirley Hughes. Hardcover published by Candlewick Press in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-7636-4472-7

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review: Christmas Kitten, Home at Last by Robin Pulver

✰✰✰✰✰ All the presents have been delivered and Santa has returned to the North Pole with a surprise for Mrs. Claus, an adorable homeless kitten named Cookie. But, alas, Santa is allergic to cats, so Mrs. Claus searches through letters from children who want kittens. She finds the perfect match, but there's a glitch. Santa needs permission from parents to give pets as Christmas presents. What is he to do? When Cookie discovers an unopened letter, Santa may have found the answer to his problem.

The Bottom Line: Kids will love this Christmas tale of how Cookie the kitten finds a home. Christmas Kitten, Home at Last is the sequel to Christmas for a Kitten, but can be read as a stand alone book. The artwork in this picture book is beautifully painted in oils. Highly recommended for kids ages 5 - 9 and for anyone who loves a great Christmas animal story.

Details: Christmas Kitten, Home at Last written by Robin Pulver & illustrated by Layne Johnson. Hardcover published by Albert Whitman & Company in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-8075-1157-2

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Book Review: Christmas Trees by Kathryn Stevens

✰✰✰ Christmas trees have been a part of our holiday celebrations for a long time, but what do we really know about the tradition? This slim book introduces kids to basic information about Christmas trees. Kids get a brief introduction on everything from choosing a Christmas tree to decorating one. The book is illustrated with full color photographs and even includes a glossary and resources for further reading. Call-out boxes in the shape of Christmas gift tags draw attention to related information.

The Bottom Line: Christmas Trees is part of the "Our Holiday Symbols" series which includes Thanksgiving Turkeys, Fourth of July Fireworks, Easter Bunnies, and more. It is a fun introduction to information about a favorite holiday tradition. Recommended for kids in grades K - 2. Also, recommended for school or public libraries with holiday collections.

Details: Christmas Trees by Kathryn Stevens. Hardcover published in 2010 by The Child's World. 24 p. ISBN: 978-1602533325

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Review: When Santa Lost His Ho! Ho! Ho! by Laura Rader

✰✰✰ Now and then everyone gets a mild case of the holiday blues, but when Santa Claus looses his Ho! Ho! Ho!, the whole world is concerned. With Christmas just a few days away, people everywhere, including the elves and Mrs. Claus, try to help Santa, but to no avail. Nothing makes Santa laugh. Then while helping Santa catch up with his mail, Mrs. Claus has an idea, but is it too late before Christmas?

The Bottom Line: Filled with cute and colorful pen and ink cartoons, this picture book is fun holiday reading any time of the year for kids in grades 1 - 3.

Details: When Santa Lost His Ho! Ho! Ho! written and illustrated by Laura Rader. Hardcover published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2008. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-114139-3

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Book Review: Small, Medium and Large by Jane Monroe Donovan

✰✰✰½ In this wordless picture book, a Christmas wish unfolds through beautiful illustrations when a little girl writes a letter to Santa. As we follow along, we discover whether her Christmas wish is granted. When three special presents are left under the tree, the snowy adventure begins.

The Bottom Line: This picture book tells a story by using only illustrations, which encourages the viewer to follow along and discuss the actions in the pictures. The book is full of beautiful artwork. Also, there is an interesting note "From the Author" about the animals featured in the story. Recommended for kids ages 5 - 7 who enjoy animal stories.

Details: Small, Medium and Large written and illustrated by Jane Monroe Donovan. Hardcover published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1-58536-447-3

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Review: Jeannette Claus Saves Christmas by Douglas Rees

✰✰✰½ When Santa gets sick on Christmas Eve, his spunky daughter, Jeannette, decides to deliver the presents. Despite Santa's misgivings and warnings about rebellious reindeer, Jeannette loads up the sleigh and takes off anyway. The presents get delivered lickety-split; just when it looks like they may be finished early, the reindeer fly away led by that troublemaker Dasher. Clever Jeannette doesn't let that get her down; with the help of an alley full of cats and dogs, she comes up with a clever plan to save Christmas.

The Bottom Line: Jeannette Claus Saves Christmas features bold print and colorful eye-catching pencil illustrations that were rendered in Photoshop. The glitter on the cover caught my eye immediately. This is a Santa story with a modern twist that kids in grades K - 2 will adore. A delightful story that is enthusiastically recommended for holiday fun any time of the year.

Details: Jeannette Claus Saves Christmas written by Douglas Rees and illustrated by Olivier Latyk. Hardcover published by Margaret K. McElderry Books in 2010. 32 p. ISBN: 978-1-4169-2686-3

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Christmas in July" Book Reviews for 2011

Believe it or not, but it's that time of year again when we at Mini Book Bytes Book Reviews spend a month reading Christmas books. For me Summer is the best time to read winter holiday books because I'm not running around trying to buy and wrap presents. For the month of July we'll be looking at books with winter themes and especially Christmas picture books for the little ones. So settle in with a candy cane and your favorite hot chocolate and enjoy some holiday fun.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review: A Century of Detection by John Cullen Gruesser

✰✰✰✰ This collection of mystery short stories spans a century that defined the genre of detective fiction. A Century of Detection: Twenty Great Mystery Stories, 1841 - 1940 provides a thematic survey of detective fiction and the stories are presented chronologically. John Cullen Gruesser has included an introduction that explains each of the themes and a brief introduction is included for each author featured.

Gruesser's study of detective fiction begins appropriately with Edgar Allan Poe and continues with stories by well-known authors like Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dashiell Hammett. However, what makes this collection unique is the inclusion of some lesser known authors that illustrate the development of the genre. Through the study of themes including "Gender, Sexuality, and Detection" as well as "Race and Detection," the reader is exposed to memorable stories by authors like Anna Katharine Green, Susan Glaspell, Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, and Chester Himes.

The Bottom Line: This collection of twenty mystery short stories is a fascinating study of how detective fiction developed over the course of one hundred years. It serves as an insightful study to both the academic scholar and the armchair detective. Additionally, this tome is simply enjoyable to read; there's something for everyone from well-known classic short stories to little known stories that are hard to find. Also, it's a must read for those interested in learning the craft of mystery writing. Highly recommended for both students and fans of detective fiction.

Details: A Century of Detection: Twenty Great Mystery Stories: 1841 - 1940 by John Cullen Gruesser. Paperback published by McFarland in 2010. 378 p. ISBN: 9780786446506 Note: I received a complimentary copy from McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers in exchange for a review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book Review: The Secret of the Sealed Room by Bailey MacDonald

✰✰✰½ Young Patience Martin is a bright, spunky, and witty teenaged girl with a knack for getting into trouble. Facing four more years as an indentured servant is wearing thin with Patience. However, she gets more than she bargained for when her mistress, Mrs. Worth, dies from poisoning. Add a missing strongbox into the mix and Patience decides to run off. With a reward being offered for her capture, Patience turns to an unlikely friend, a young printer's apprentice named Benjamin Franklin, for help.

Before Patience can get into even deeper trouble, the two adventurous teens set out to solve the mystery of Mrs. Worth's death and to find the missing cash . Follow them through the streets of colonial Boston as the two devise various schemes to reveal the real murderer and thief.

The Bottom Line:
The Secret of the Sealed Room: A Mystery of Young Benjamin Franklin is a fun and quick read for the middle school set; this is a great introduction to historical fiction. Kids who enjoy mysteries will be intrigued.

The Secret of the Sealed Room: A Mystery of Young Benjamin Franklin by Bailey MacDonald. Hardcover published by Aladdin in 2010. 224 p. ISBN: 978-1-4169-9760-3

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cookbook Review: Good Housekeeping Budget Dinners!

✰✰✰✰½ This gem of a cookbook is chock full of easy dinners to make on a budget. There's no need to panic when the kids ask, "What's for dinner?" Simply pull out a copy of Good Housekeeping Budget Dinners!: 100 recipes your family will love, and you'll have a delicious, homemade meal ready in no time without breaking the bank.

The Editors at Good Housekeeping have come up with a collection of recipes are easy to follow and presented in step-by-step format. Unlike most cookbooks that are organized by beef, chicken, or fish, this one is organized by "eight roads into feeding your family frugally." These roads include "Cook It Slow and Easy," "Breakfast for Dinner," and "Supper in a Salad Bowl." However, there are still plenty of recipes that include beef, poultry, and seafood; plus, there's pork, pasta, soups, salads, ethnic dishes, and vegetarian delights.

This cookbook includes everything from slow cooker recipes to grilled sensations that your family will love. The book's physical format is a spiral-bound hardcover that lies flat when in use, a handy feature that works well for lots of cooks including me. Additionally, beautiful full-color photos are included for many recipes.

The Bottom Line:
The home-style recipes found in this cookbook are both convenient and easy to prepare. Wallet-friendly tips are included throughout. Highly recommended for home cooks who are thinking frugal in these challenging economic times.

Good Housekeeping Budget Dinners!: 100 recipes your family will love by The Editors of Good Housekeeping. Hardcover published by Hearst Communications, Inc. in 2010. 176p. ISBN: 978-1-58816-812-2