Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Magnolia Story~Chip and Joanna Gaines | Review

Title: The Magnolia Story
Author: Chip and Joanna Gaines
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Length: 208 Pages
Release: October 2016

Review
I don't watch a lot of TV, but I have seen Fixer Upper a few times with my family and I always find it interesting. I don't know what drew me to this book, but when I saw that I could get it on audio through my library Overdrive account, I decided to give it a listen. 

This was hilarious. I was laughing out loud within the first twenty minutes. Chip and Joanna have a great story and hearing about their meeting, falling in love, and later being married and what they've done with their family was really inspirational. 

One thing that I love is that they don't take God and their beliefs out of things. They talk about their faith, praying for guidance, and how God has been present in their lives, even when they didn't realize it. That is quite refreshing to me. I also appreciate that they aren't pushy with their beliefs, they let you know what they believe without preaching. Jo said it best there at the end of the book--they want people to follow their dreams. 

Going into this I wasn't expecting to be so inspired. But I was. They made me want to work harder and really try to make the things I love work for me. And I think that with the right amount of effort and time, I can. They have given me a lot of things to think about and ideas to run with. 

The main drawback with this for me was the style it was done in. It worked great for audio, particularly since Chip and Jo narrated it themselves, but I think it would have been awkward to actually read. I haven't tried it, so I can't say if this is definitely the case, but while listening I was always glad that I was listening and not reading. I don't think I would have gotten as much from it in that format.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Gardens of the Moon~Steven Erikson | Review

Title: Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen #1)
Author: Steven Erikson
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 666 Pages
Release: 1999

Review
There are some books that it's really hard to write reviews for. This is one of those books. 

I don't know what I expected going into this, but somehow what I got wasn't it, but in a good way. For some reason I had imagined that this book would be really dark and depressing. I don't tend to enjoy grimdark novels all that much and I think that's what I expected from this. So while this definitely had some dark tones, I didn't find the writing or the story itself particularly depressing. I hope that holds up as the series continues. 

This novel follows a lot of characters, which I really enjoy. Large casts of characters always make things exciting for me. In the beginning I had a hard time connecting with the characters, though I found them all interesting. The more I got to know them, however, the more I started to appreciate them. There is no standout character that I became attached to, but there are several that I like for different reasons. Paran was an early favorite. Then there were Toc and Kruppe. Then I started to really enjoy Kalam, Quick Ben, and Rallick. And from there it kept building until I really liked them all, in some way. Even the ones that didn't seem all that likable. 

This isn't a typical good versus evil story, at least not on the surface. In the beginning I was searching for who the good guys were, only to discover that we were getting perspectives from nearly every angle and while some of the actions taken were questionable, there was still no clear line separating the "good" from the "bad." At first this was odd for me, but the more I read the more I liked it. 

The plot is very involved and I'm sure will continue to expand as the series progresses. I am positive that I did not catch all of the nuances throughout, but the details that did come together were pretty great. And there are still plenty of questions for later, without leaving me feeling unsatisfied with the ending. 

I really enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it to those who enjoy epic and high fantasy with large casts of characters and a plethora of characters and perspectives. It's well written, exciting, and a lot of fun.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Between Shades of Gray~Ruta Sepetys | Review

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 352 pages (paperback)
Release: March 2011

Review
"We're dealing with two devils who both want to rule hell."


It took me a long time to read this novel and I have no idea why. Historical fiction, particularly stories surrounding World War Two, are some of my favorite novels to read. They can be very hard hitting though, so reading a lot of them back to back can be emotionally draining. 

And this novel is no different. 

This novel deals with a lesser written about, lesser known part of the history of WWII. Lina, our main character, and her family are Lithuanian. Stalin invaded and annexed Lithuania, arresting and killing many of its citizens. In this story, Lina and her family are some of those arrested and we hear, from her own perspective, about what happens to them as they go. 

The author note at the end made me appreciate the novel even more than I did on its own. History is something that is important and sharing these stories keeps it alive, allowing us to prevent, if we choose to exercise that power, a repeat offense. Her note wasn't long, but it was touching to hear her personal connection and how she researched the novel. 

Between Shades of Gray is, essentially, a love story. Not a love story in the traditional sense, though there is some romance, but a love story that spans all types of love. There is love of family, of country, friends, neighbors, strangers, of God. And sometimes, there are small instances of kindness in the least likely of places. 

War, though it shows us the worst of humanity, often shows us what is best about our species as well. It's easy to judge another when you don't have all the facts, but a closer look often reveals something hidden beneath the surface. There is evil in the world, but there is also goodness. And if anything, that is what this novel shows. It has horror, yes, but above all of that it has love. 

I met Ruta a little over a year ago, after having read Out of the Easy, which I very much enjoyed. I hope that I get to meet her again one day so that I can tell her how much this novel and her own personal story have touched and inspired me.

I listened to this one on audio and while overall I think that the narrator, Emily Klein, was a good narrator, at times her tone didn't fit the narrative for me. Sometimes during serious, darker parts, her tone almost made it sound like the characters were joking about things. This wasn't true most of the time, but did have these moments that pushed me out of the story. 

Overall I highly recommend this, whether read in the physical format or listened to on audio, this is a book that everyone should read. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Wrath of Mulgarath~Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi | Review

Title: The Wrath of Mulgarath (The Spiderwick Chronicles #5)
Author: Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Length: 136 Pages
Release: 2005

Review
This was the final installment in the Spiderwick Chronicles and overall I was very pleased. Jared faces some of the inner struggles that we have seen in the previous novels and finally faces down some of his demons. The sibling relationship between Jared, Simon, and Mallory continues to be a highlight of the series. 

We get a lot of both Thimbletack and Hogsqueal in this final installment, which I appreciated. These two are a lot of fun and it was nice to have them around more. We also get to see some other familiar faces, some are not so welcome. 

I honestly love the writing in these stories and that makes me want to seek out other stories by these writers to see if they live up to this series. Everything was vivid and well thought out. Sure, it could have gone deeper and become lengthy middlegrade or young adult novels, but I think they are perfect as they are. 

If you haven't tried this series I highly recommend them. Read them with your children, your nieces and nephews, students, or by yourself, it really doesn't matter. They are very enjoyable and I think appeal to a wide range of ages. My sister and I both enjoyed them all very much as adults and I wish that I had had them as a child.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Ironwood Tree~Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi | Review

Title: The Ironwood Tree (The Spiderwick Chronicles #4)
Author: Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
Genre: Children's Fantasy
Length: 108 pages
Release: 2004

Review
This fourth installment in the Spiderwick Chronicles, does not quite hold up to its predecessors, but that doesn't mean it's not an excellent story. This one takes us deeper into the faerie world as the Grace children are pulled into even more faerie schemes. 

For being such short books, and written for a young audience, these stories really pack a punch. One thing that I enjoy is the relationship between Jared, Simon, and Mallory. They are a realistic set of siblings. They each have their own interests and they don't always get along, but you can tell that they genuinely care about each other. 

My main drawback with this one was the fact that it ends with a major cliffhanger. Each of the preceding books had a smaller tale within that connected to the overall plot in the series. This one seemed to just be a continuation, so there was no satisfying ending. Instead it just, well, ended. And I found that somewhat disappointing.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Paul McAvoy's "So... I Met" Series | Guest Post

Today's post is brought to you from Paul McAvoy, the author of the "So... I Met" series. You can find all of his novels on Paul's Amazon Page.

Taking a look at the “So… I Met” series….
By Paul McAvoy

The series of books was not actually planned… I don’t think I sat down and thought, I will do a series: I guess it just happened. I actually wrote the first few for my children: So… I Met a Ghost and So… I Met an Alien were written around the same time. So… I Met a Ghost, is the darker of the two, and it features a strange boy called Cal who likes to draw pictures of graves near to his dad’s house. He is from a broken home and has a sister: he sees his Dad a few times a week, staying over. I suppose ‘Ghost’ deals a lot with how it is for kids when their parents split up, the sense of loss and confusion a child must feel when both his parents no longer want to be together, and perhaps his trips to a local graveyard to draw gravestones helps him deal with it. But it is during such a visit he first sees a ghost…

In ‘Alien,’ things are a bit lighter. There is a darkness, however, as the main character Danny’s mother passed away a year or so earlier and him, his sister and father moved away from the hustle and bustle of life in London to sleepy Somerset. The book deals with his loss, but there is also a couple of bullies at his school, who he is finding it hard to deal with. Unable to take the bullying anymore, he skips school, but just so happens to save the life of an alien in doing so. His interaction with the alien is quite light-hearted and in a race against time book, he tries to get the alien to safety from the Men in Dark (more of them later).

The third book is So… I Met a Demon. In this one I wanted to chronical a child’s life over a series of years, watching him grow a year old in each chapter. Every May Day (1st of May), Ben sees the same girl in the gardens of the local Spook House, which everyone thinks is haunted. No one can see her but him. The question is who is she and why does she not seem to age?

The forth book in all about the Vampire. It is the first in my series to feature a girl as the main character. (Like Doctor Who casting a female doctor, maybe this was long overdue). Jesse wakes in woods in Scotland, having no memory of how she got there. The book at one point was going to be about a reaper, but it seemed to evolve into more of a story about a vampire. Jesse meets a man in dark at a local police station and her memories come back and she tells her story of how she died and was given a chance to live again by a reaper – she had to perform three tasks: one of which was to obtain blood from a vampire…

Although the main characters in the books are always different to the previous ones, there is a recurring man in dark, called ‘Bobby,’ and as each book passes, we learn a little bit more about him and the Department of Paranormal Investigations (DPI), where he works.

Bobby features a lot in the latest book, So… I Met a Werewolf and I guess we have two main characters here: We have Ollie who is saved by a mysterious teenage girl (Leah) in a Scottish glen, having tumbled off a mountain and injuring his leg. We have Ollie’s story, and also Leah’s as she tells him how she became a werewolf while they sit in the middle of nowhere in an old building at the side of the mountain, Ollie’s leg too badly damaged for him to walk anywhere, the full moon rising quickly…

I am interested how people will take So... I Met a Werewolf. The previous four were more YA horror/adventure type of reads, but this is all about the story. I have tried to create a slow build YA horror here in the hope that the reader spends their time with their breath held until the last page is turned. Is Leah a werewolf? Is she deluded?

But what of the future? Well, there are plenty of supernatural beings out there to meet and there are warlocks and witches as well… I have also got plans to tell Bobby’s tale one day -  how did he become involved in the DPI? I wish to re-visit some of the previous characters as well, see how they are progressing in life. I did not think this series would go on to five books, but I actually think that there are more to come… many more…

The books are all available in both paperback and on Kindle.

https://paulmcavoywriting.blogspot.co.uk/

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Derby Horse~Mara Dabrishus | Review

Title: Derby Horse (Stay the Distance #3)
Author: Mara Dabrishus
Genre: YA Contemporary
Length: 202 Pages
Release: January 2018

A copy of this novel was received from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Review
It can be hard to find good equestrian fiction. More times than not, there is something off in the balance of the story. Either the horse bits are glaringly wrong, the writing is stilted, or the horses end up making a very minimal appearance, serving as little more than a plot device. After this, the fourth novel of Mara's that I have read, I still believe she gets it right. 

Here we follow July Carter as she embarks on new adventures both at the track and in the dressage arena. This is the third in a five book series, and while I do think that it is slightly weaker than the preceding novels, it's still a solid addition to the story. Middle books, which are often the "bridge" books in a series, connecting the beginning to the end, often fall a little short, but this one clearly sets us up and points us toward what has the potential to be a great conclusion.

I don't want to go into too many details about the plot, since this is a later book in the series, but it deals with just what the title says: will they have a horse in the Kentucky Derby? 

All of the horse stuff made me itch to get back in the saddle. It also made me think about what my life could have been, had I followed any of those crazy daydreams I had as a teenager. Some of those dreams are still attainable, and I still have my horses to ride, so they haven't all died over the years. 

July is very relatable, even some of the more negative aspects of her character. She always feels that she has to fix things, or that she understands more than might be reality, or that she is integral to everything working. Some of these things can get a little grating, but sometimes it's because they hit too close to home and not because they are over the top. 

Beck is still the Beck that I grew to love in Stay the Distance, just a little more grown up now. I was glad that we got so much of him in this installment and hope that there is more to come in the future. 

This was overall an excellent read and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read about horses or enjoys young adult contemporary/romance fiction. The setting might be a little different than you are used to, but I think a lot of people would enjoy it if they give it a chance.