Book Review: Topaz Reign by Teresa Richards

Topaz Reign.jpgCalling all fairy tale fans: here is a book for you! Book one of this series—Emerald Bound—gives us an interpretation of the princess and the pea. Topaz Reign continues this tale and introduces the story of Thumbelina.

Lindy—the princess who slept on an enchanted emerald, or “pea”—is back in her native land and time. As she tries to learn how to lead her country, a topaz that grants its wearer unmatched beauty and power threatens to overthrow her family, country, and even the world. With help from friends and family, Lindy must figure out the secret of the topaz and destroy it, before it destroys everyone she loves.

Lindy is my favorite character from Emerald Bound, so I was very excited to see her grow into a confident, powerhouse woman in this book. Maggie and Garon are also significant players in this story, and Tanner has a more important role in helping take down the wearer of the topaz.

I loved trying to figure out which character was Thumbelina, because it’s not obvious at first! Thumbelina is another fairy tale that, like the princess and the pea, is not one that I’ve heard many times. I feel like Hollywood and mainstream books redo the same fairy tales over and over—Cinderella, Snow White, the “classic” princesses—and I love the author’s ability to bring lesser-known fairy tales to the limelight and give them a twist.

Like Emerald Bound, Topaz Reign is so much fun, full of action, and sure to keep you turning pages!

5 out of 5 stars

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Book Review: The Bug Boys by Stewart Hoffman

I’ve just finished The Bug Boys and, oh, what a delightful read! This good tale can be found on Book Club Reading List.bug-boys

Synopsis

Alex and Ian are two ordinary middle-schoolers growing up in an ordinary small town in England. One afternoon they ate a lunch that made them feel peculiar. Little did they know, that peanut butter sandwich and apple were saturated in an ancient alien life form that turned their bodies into portals to a distant planet. They first discovered something was amiss when, after being forced to swallow a ladybug by the school bully, Alex grew 4 extra arms, acquired super-strength, and could understand the language of bugs–but only for about 20 minutes. With their newfound superpowers, Alex and Ian felt unstoppable. What better way was there to use their new abilities than to fight crime and become superheroes? After dealing with the local school bully, Alex and Ian find themselves tangled up in a corporate conspiracy far out of their league and soon long for the days before their problems became so complicated.

Strengths

This book is SO funny! I love the storytelling style and the humor that is woven so effortlessly throughout. The author has referenced his love of Terry Pratchett and I can see his influence in book’s sense of humor. I love the lighthearted, fresh twist on a superhero story, and I love that the main characters–Alex and Ian–behave exactly how you would expect pre-teen boys with superpowers to behave. They are absolutely believable and genuine characters that are so easy to love. While The Bug Boys is an entertaining read for anyone, if you have a son who might struggle with finding interesting books to read, you MUST give them this one! They will love it! Maybe I’m biased because I’m a girl (and therefore exposed to a plethora of interesting-to-girls literature), but I don’t think there are enough books geared toward middle school boys. The Bug Boys would be a fantastic addition to any young reader’s bookshelf.

Weaknesses

There were a few chapters where the action slowed down a bit, examining the story from a different point of view. While it was nice to get a different perspective, the change in pace during these chapters was a little slower than I preferred. But these chapters were generally brief before connecting back to Alex and Ian’s adventures.

Conclusion

This is a book you don’t want to miss. It has broad audience appeal, thanks to the easy humor and fun writing style, and will be enjoyed by readers of any age. I would especially recommend to middle school age boys, but again, everyone can enjoy this read. Go get yourself a copy and enjoy your next good tale!

5 stars

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Book Review: Waterwight by Laurel McHargue

waterwightI’ve finished Laurel McHargue’s Waterwight. What a fun read!! I found this gem on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

After a catastrophe only known as “the Event”, Celeste escapes from a home for orphans with little to no memory of what happened to her parents. Determined to learn the truth, Celeste embarks on an adventure to save what’s left of the world from an ever-growing ocean of toxic ooze. Guided by a mountain spirit and befriended by a giant, flying frog, Celeste must learn how to live in this changed world devoid of adults where children have started getting supernatural powers. Hunted by a murderous shape-shifter, will Celeste uncover the mystery behind the ooze before the rest of the world is overcome?

Strengths

I thought this was such a creative take on a post-apocalyptic world. I’m not sure I’ve ever read one where the children were the only survivors. Throw in supernatural powers and you’ve got a really interesting story. I think the characters were well-developed; my favorite is Orville, the French, flying frog. Who knew a frog could be so overwhelmingly charming?? I am dying to know how his story continues in the next book!

The supernatural powers that start manifesting in the children are so cool and varied. Mind reading, flying, invisibility, time-stopping, visions, super-strength…I could go on.

A huge strength to this book is the driving mystery. Where did this ooze come from? What exactly happened during the Event and what caused it? There’s a dreamlike quality throughout that makes the book feel very magical.

Weaknesses

There were times when the traveling of various characters got a bit tedious. Celeste has to fly across the ocean a couple of times and I think those parts could have been sped up or condensed further. But otherwise there weren’t many weaknesses!

Conclusion

This is a definite must read! Especially for the YA or middle school audience. Fun characters with superpowers and fast-moving, interesting plot, this is a book you won’t want to miss!

5 stars

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Laurel loves to hear from her readers! Contact her on Book Club Reading List or on Facebook

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Book Review: Downburst by Katie Robison

downburst-coverI just finished reading Katie Robison’s Downburst. Readers, this was an AWESOME book! I can’t wait to tell you more. I found this read on the Cheap eBooks reading list.

Synopsis

Kit is a girl who has run away from home. She is making a meager living by delivering illicit goods (drugs, fake ids, etc) to their buyers. One day, when the cops discover their location, she goes on the run, spending her first night in an empty train car. The next morning, she witnesses the murder of a girl who looks so similar to Kit she could be her twin. As she runs away, she is kidnapped by a man who mistakes her for the girl who was murdered (named Aura) and is taken to a bizarre week-long summer camp. Since staying at camp seems safer than running from the cops, Kit decides to play along and be Aura. Assuming a new identity turns out to be harder than she thought it would be, especially since her fellow campers seem to have supernatural abilities: they can fly–er, windwalk. Can Kit fit in with her surroundings and survive the week? Or will she be discovered as an impostor and tortured as a spy?

Strengths

Wow, this book was awesome! And I don’t say that very often. This book was described as something that “fans of the Hunger Games will love” and I agree. It is fast-paced with a fascinating undercurrent of supernatural, Native American mythology and a plot that keeps the reader guessing. Each time I had a theory on what was going to happen, further reading repeatedly proved me wrong. There wasn’t a single moment in the book where I was bored, which has not happened to me in a very long time.

Kit is a great character who experiences a lot of personal growth throughout her story. It was fun to witness. There were several other supporting characters that I became attached to and emotionally invested in their well-being. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I very nearly cried couple times and my heart definitely broke once.

Weaknesses

The only weakness is that I didn’t have the sequel in my hands when I finished!! I’ve gotta get on that…

Conclusion

I would probably categorize Downburst as a YA action/fantasy. If you like mythology-inspired books like Percy Jackson, you’ll love Downburst. If you like action-packed survivalist books like Hunger Games, you’ll like Downburst. If you like YA, you’ll like Downburst. Why am I still writing?? Do yourself a favor and go read Downburst!! You’ll love it.

An easy 5 stars

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Book Review: A Chick in the Cockpit

A Chick in the CockpitI just finished an amazing and inspirational biography. A Chick in the Cockpit is the story of Erika Armstrong’s life as a female pilot and her experiences living with an abusive husband. This tale is perfect for book clubs, it even comes with a list of discussion questions at the end, and can be found on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

The aviation industry is, even to this day, dominated by men. Women pilots are rare, and Erika shares her struggles overcoming prejudice and her desire to prove that a chick can fly an airplane just as well as a man. The reader is taken on a journey through Erika’s life and given a unique view about a sector in our society where women are still fighting to be seen as equals. More compelling yet, we are given a front row seat to what abusive relationships look like, which come in many different forms. Aviation is used as a metaphor throughout the book for Erika’s personal journey. Each chapter starts with a checklist, something pilots use constantly, to guide the reader along. It is both a heart wrenching and heart warming tale of hard work, resilience, and the strength of women.

“Our mistake as feminists is thinking we should be or think more like men. There is nothing feminine about feminism, and that’s where we all got it wrong. We should be acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses, not denying them.” (page 65)

Strengths

The best part of this book is its copious amount of heart. As Erika experienced each new trial, I was right there, experiencing it right alongside her, feeling her pain. I was angry when she was mistreated, incredulous when she was wrongfully arrested, and frustrated that there was no one she could turn to for so many years. I was overcome with joy at the quiet strength of her book club heroes who stepped in when she needed them most. This book makes you feel, and that is the best gift literature can give.

I also think it should be said that this is not a bra-burning, man-hating feminist book. I wouldn’t have even finished it if it was. It’s the story of someone who worked hard despite discrimination, and for years dealt with a spouse who was both controlling and emotionally and physically abusive. It is a celebration of the strength of the human spirit.

Weaknesses

Really the only thing that can be said here is that perhaps the sections about aviation are a touch long-winded, but even they add to the overarching metaphor. I have nothing more to add here. 🙂

Conclusion

In my interview with Erika, she promises that,

“…this story will make you pee your pants with laughter, cry with anger, and smile at the power of women.”

I can tell you now, A Chick in the Cockpit absolutely delivers. I was teary-eyed in a few places, and by the end was so proud of all that she accomplished and the strong women that buoyed her up during her darkest hour. It made me proud to be a woman, a mother, and a wife. This is a perfect choice for any book club, especially because Erika’s heroes in the book were her own Book Club Warriors. Such an inspirational story. Go get a copy!!

5 stars

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Book Review: The Angel of Innisfree

angel of innisfreeI’m not sure how to begin this post. I’m in a sort of reading coma–like a food coma, but experienced after over-indulging on a good book. The Angel of Innisfree, by Patrick F. Rooney, is a seriously fantastic read and can be found on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

The story begins in Ireland in 1848 during the Irish Potato Famine. Landlords are ruthlessly evicting their tenants and thousands are dying in the streets. When 16-year-old Elizabeth Reilly nurses Brian O’Rourke back to health after nearly starving to death, the young lovers’ fates become intertwined. After Brian’s family is killed by English soldiers, he and his sister Mary are forced to flee to America on a famine ship and start a new life, but not before promising Elizabeth that he would find her someday. Elizabeth moves to France to study with Chopin and pursue her dream of becoming a concert pianist. Elizabeth and Brian each take incredible journeys that give the reader a glimpse into the rich history of the telegraph, the Underground Railroad, and the American Civil War. Will Brian and Elizabeth find each other in a country ripped apart by war?

Strengths

I’m always excited when I find a really good historical fiction novel. I detest history books but I enjoy learning about the past. Historical fiction, for me, is the best way to learn history because it makes those time periods come alive in ways that text books can never achieve. I don’t know if I can express emphatically enough how much I loved The Angel of Innisfree. There was so much action–far more I would ever expect from this genre!–and the story line was consistently moving along at the perfect rate: slow enough to savor the setting, but quick enough to keep me interested in what was going to happen next.

The main characters were phenomenal; I couldn’t believe the hardships both Brian and Elizabeth endured and overcame so that they could be together. Brian refers to Elizabeth throughout the novel as his angel of Innisfree. My favorite quote of the book came in the very last paragraph:

“I remember him playing his violin on the Viking rock to comfort the dying then, how he rescued Mary, how he helped the Negroes escape on the Underground Railroad, how he helped the wounded soldiers at Antietam, and a hundred other kindnesses over the years, and it occurs to me that he may have been the angel of Innisfree all along.” (Elizabeth, epilogue.)

The writing style is clear and strong, the history is fascinating and informative, the characters are compelling, and the love story is one for the ages.

Weaknesses

In a book this strong it is hard to come up with any weaknesses. It was perhaps a little long, but it really was a story I wanted to savor and take my time with. (Unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury!)

Conclusion

I am at a loss for why this book only has a few reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It is as good a book as any I have ever read. Readers, let’s band together and share the word about this good tale! If you haven’t read it yet, go get a copy now. I promise you won’t regret it!

I give The Angel of Innisfree a full 5 stars, wishing I could give it more.

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Book Review: “Miss?”

miss-coverBefore I had my own kids and got into book reviewing, I was a behavior counselor to inner-city elementary school students. It was a hard and thankless job; I lasted less than 2 years before I was burned out. The stories told in “Miss?”, by Laurel McHargue, remind me of my own time working with troubled youth. It is heartbreaking subject matter, but I’m so glad McHargue has told her story because it’s important. This is an especially great read for book clubs. You can find “Miss?” on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

Maggie McCauley is fresh out of the army and lands a job at a failing middle school teaching 7th grade English in Denver, Colorado. With the looming threat of their school closing, Maggie does her best to teach students who have far more serious issues on their minds than expanding their vocabularies. “Miss?” provides a heart-wrenching account of many of the challenges faced by both teachers and students in public schools today.

Strengths

I think the biggest strength to “Miss?” is its obvious heart and realism. Maggie’s students face challenges daily that no child should ever have to deal with. They are children of drug addicts, live in homes with little to no supervision; some parents are abusive, while others are working too many jobs trying to make ends meet and are simply not present. Some speak no English at home. Upon hearing about one student whose mother was a drug addict and was being raise by his grandparents,

“Maggie was incensed, and an abrupt surge of what could only be described as a maternal instinct lit a fire in her chest and made her want to scream.” (Chapter 17)

I have felt this before in my job as a behavioral counselor. Even when the kids drive you crazy with their antics and continued disrespect, frustration can melt away in a moment and be replaced by a fierce love and desire to protect them from the injustice they have been dealt in life. “Miss?” showcases these students and makes the reader fall in love with them through Maggie’s eyes.

Weaknesses

While I was reading I kept hoping to learn more about Maggie outside of school and her present teaching life. We learn very little about her family and I wondered how she fit in with them. There were opportunities where McHargue could have added that layer of depth to Maggie, like when she visited home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but only mentioned briefly that she had visited home rather than giving the reader a glimpse into that aspect of her life. There were other characters as well from which I wished for more: Grant, her boyfriend for part of the novel, and many of her co-workers were somewhat shallowly developed. I understand the focus of the story was Maggie’s relationship with teaching and her students, but adding more depth to supporting characters would contribute to a more vibrant and realistic story.

Conclusion

Overall this was a very well written story. If you have ever been a teacher, worked in a school in any position, have a child in public school, will ever have children in public school, have ever attended public school, or have any interest in learning about the school system then you should read and will enjoy this book. Ha, so really, everyone should read it. 🙂

McHargue has taken a difficult subject matter and presented it in a way that will both educate and entertain readers. Most importantly it makes you care about and be aware of what many teachers are dealing with in our schools. Go find yourself a copy and enjoy an enlightening read!

5 stars

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