Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Review: 'Groundhog Weather School' by Joan Holub

✰✰✰✰ It can be really difficult to predict the weather as the Weather Groundhog knows all too well because sometimes he's wrong. After all, the Weather Groundhog can't be everywhere at the same time. So when rabbit complains, the Weather Groundhog decides to open a school to train more groundhogs to help predict the weather on February 2. Now, not every animal can be a weather groundhog. There are special requirements and lessons to be learned. At Groundhog Weather School, students learn about history, nature, burrow building, the seasons, and more. Then there's the big test, followed by months of hibernation. So when the groundhogs emerge from their burrows and call in with their shadow reports, the whole country is asking: Will there be six more weeks of winter this year or is spring just around the corner? Check out this colorful book to find out.

The Bottom Line: This adorable picture book is chock full of fun trivia and information about groundhogs, weather, and Groundhog Day. Told in a comic book style and illustrated in oil on paper with found objects and papers, this book is sure to please the little ones. Recommended with enthusiasm for kids in grades K - 2. This would be fun for storytime as well.

Details: Groundhog Weather School: Fun Facts About Weather and Groundhogs written by Joan Holub & illustrated by Kristin Sorra. Hardcover picture book published by G. P. Putnam's Sons in 2009. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-399-24659-3

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine: A Year in Review 2013

Welcome to my summary of fantastic short stories that appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine during 2013. There were so many great stories and so little time, but I made the time to read each and every one. Here is my list of favorites:

January/February Double Issue: Dana Cameron's short story "Finals" was an excellent way to start of the new year. It was a fun mystery with a touch of the paranormal. Other stories I enjoyed in this issue included: "Small-Town Life" by Brendan DuBois, "White Lotus" by Michael Mallory, and "Reconciliation" by K.J. Egan.

March: My favorite for this month was a tie between "Festered Wounds" by Nancy Pauline Simpson and "The Marriage Swindler" by O'Neil De Noux. Both were great stories. I do hope to see Simpson's characters Miss Haseltine Polk and Deputy Jervis Stickley return in the future. Other stories I enjoyed included: "The Antiquary's Wife" by William Burton McCormick and "Downsized" by Doug Allyn.

April: "The Jolly Fat Man" by Cathy Dilts was a lot of fun to read. This was her first published short story! I really liked the main character, Dr. Charles Jerome Harrison, and hope he appears in another short story some day. Another short story that I couldn't put down in this issue was Phillip DePoy's "The Dead Man's Daughter." The spooky setting was great. Also, I enjoyed "Shanks' Ride" by Robert Lopresti; Shanks is one of my favorite characters.

May: I absolutely adored Terry Black's short story, "Satan's Shoe-Tops." It is told from a child's perspective and is very entertaining to read. Additionally, I enjoyed "The Bald and the Beautiful" by John Morgan Wilson and "The First Tale of Roxanne" by Angela Zeman.

June: My favorite story this month was "The Memory Train" by Wayne J. Gardiner. Other stories I enjoyed included: "Jumbie Tea" by Tom Savage and "Hitting the Brakes" by Gina Paoli.

July/August Double Issue: I had two favorite stories for this issue: "Murder Will Speak" by B. K. Stevens and "In the Land of Make-Believe" by Robert S. Levinson. Both stories were a lot of fun to read. Also, be sure to check out the Black Orchid Novella Award winner, "The Red Envelope" by Robert Lopresti.

September: One of my favorite characters, Detective Lieutenant Cyrus Auburn, was back this month in John H. Dirckx's short story, "Departmental Issue." I also enjoyed Janice Law's, "A Political Issue," with medium Madame Selina and her assistant, Nip. Additionally, readers should check out "Hangover at Sunrise" by C. B. Forrest.

October: This month "The Gypsy Ring" by James L. Ross caught my attention. I also enjoyed reading "Dress Blues" by Chris Muessig and "Two Men, One Gun" by Robert Lopresti.

November: This was a fantastic issue, and it's difficult to pick a favorite. However, Elaine Menge's story, "Soul Thief," had me hooked. I also enjoyed the quick pace of "In Plain Sight" by Diana Deverall; the story takes place in the Amish community of Pinecraft, FL. Meanwhile, Martin Limón takes the reader to Korea in his story, "The Queen of Yongju-Gol."

December: This issue contained my favorite story for the entire year: "The Aldrich House" by Alan Gordon. This horror story was full of suspense; I couldn't put it down. I also enjoyed the return of Madame Selina and Nip in Janice Law's story, "The Psychic Investigator" and Kathy Lynn Emerson's historical short story, "A Wondrous Violent Motion."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book Review: 'The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy' by Nikki Loftin

✰✰✰✰½ Everything in Lorelei Robinson’s life has changed recently, and not for the better. So when Lorelei and her annoying brother, Bryan, get accepted into the new charter school after their old school conveniently burned down, it’s like a dream come true. Things are great at first. Students can run in the hallways, text their friends, and eat special snacks during recess. A full service dining room featuring each student’s favorite dishes serves both breakfast and lunch. Additionally, there is candy galore.

But Lorelei is different from the other students. She resists the temptations of Splendid Academy along with her new friend, Andrew. As the largest boy in the school, Andrew knows all about food addiction and trigger foods. Together they resist being fattened up. However, Principal Trapp has other plans, and it seems that Lorelei is the principal’s special project. Being plagued by feelings of guilt and grief over her mother’s death, Lorelei wants to trust the principal. However, it’s not too soon before Lorelei and Andrew discover a chilling secret. It seems that things are not so sweet at Splendid Academy. Together Lorelei and Andrew must work as a team to save both themselves and their classmates from certain death.

The Bottom Line: Nikki Loftin’s debut novel is a winner. Both young readers and the young at heart will enjoy this modern twist on an old favorite, Hansel and Gretel. Like many fairy tales, there is an evil stepmother, a witch or two, and a lonely, good-hearted heroine. Lorelei is easy to identify with; her character is compassionate and sweet with real flaws.

This wickedly sweet confection is recommended for fans of magic, fantasy, and mystery. It’s a very quick read that is creepy and fun at the same time. Parents and teachers will appreciate the underlying themes of healthy eating, teamwork, and friendship. Highly recommended for kids in grades 4 – 7.

Details: The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy by Nikki Loftin. Hardcover published by Razorbill in 2012. 304 p. ISBN: 978-1-59514-508-6

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review: 'The Tainted Coin' by Mel Starr

✰✰✰✰½ The fifth installment finds Hugh still holding down two vastly different jobs: bailiff and surgeon. As a new father, Hugh must learn to balance his concerns for his family’s safety with his work responsibilities. So when a chapman is found beaten, Hugh is summoned to provide aid. Unfortunately, the chapman is mortally wounded. Before dying, the chapman mutters a simple, yet puzzling, phrase. Then as Hugh helps bury the man, an ancient coin falls out of the man’s mouth.

Written in first person, Hugh chronicles his personal observations and actions as he searches for the both the murderer and the origin of the strange, ancient coin. As Hugh and his brawny sidekick, Arthur, investigate the matter, the mystery becomes more complex. Adding to the challenge, Hugh’s nemesis, Sir Simon Trillowe, returns with his minions. Thus, when his wife and child are attacked, Hugh is faced with a moral dilemma. Before he can find closure for the chapman’s death, Hugh must struggle with his conscience, faith, and duty to do what is right.

The Bottom Line: Starr’s medieval series is one of my favorites, and I look forward to each installment for an entertaining read. I find the language and information about culture included in these books to be fascinating. I’ve enjoyed watching Hugh’s character evolve. However, this installment includes less input from his wife Kate; I missed her wit and quick thinking.

This is a fast-paced read with lots of action, twists, and turns. While descriptions of medical procedures are included in the text, this installment is not too graphic. Also, I have enjoyed reading the books in order; however, each book may be read as a stand-alone. I, for one, am hooked on the series and highly recommend it for fans of medieval mysteries, historical fiction, and Christian fiction. As with the previous books, this book includes a glossary of medieval words and a map of the local area.

Details: The Tainted Coin: The Fifth Chronicle of Hugh de Singleton, Surgeon by Mel Starr. Paperback published by Monarch Books in 2012. 240 p. ISBN: 978-0-85721-250-4 NOTE: I received an Advance Reading Copy from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Welcome 2014 with a Good Book!

Happy New Year everyone! Many of you have been following me over the past few years as I have attempted the 50 Book Challenge. The first year that I attempted it, I barely made my goal. However, as the years have gone on, it has gotten easier. In 2013 I finished reading 61 books.

Many of you have told me that you would like to try the challenge as well, but 50 books just seem like too much. Did you know that you can pick a goal to suit you? Your goal could be 40 books or 25 books. It's all up to you. Of course, there is another option. Try a quarterly challenge instead. For example, try a Winter Reading Challenge of 7 books. If you read 7 books each quarter, then by the end of the year, you will have read 28 books. To make your Winter Reading Challenge even more fun, visit your local library. Many libraries offer Winter Reading Programs and challenges this time of year. So stop by today and sign up (you might even win a prize).

May 2014 be filled with health, happiness, & lots of good books!

P.S. You can keep track of my progress, by following this counter: 

NOTE: I found the free clip art from