Paris on Repeat – Book Review

By: Amy Bearce
Published on: July 14, 2020

Similar to the movie Groundhog Day, Paris on Repeat gives Eve Hollis a day to remember…over and over again. The premise is one I love and there has been more than one day in my life where I wish I could go back, repeat it and change things. However, although the story was enjoyable there were a couple of issues that really bothered me. Both issues might be in relation to genre misclassification.

Eve Hollis and her classmates have been on a class trip to Paris. It’s their last day before heading back to Germany where their parents are stationed due to being the military. This particular day is filled with lots of excitement because they are finally getting to go to the Eiffel Tower where Eve plans to confess her feelings to her friend Jace. But before she can, things move in a direction that feels out of her control. Lucky (or unlucky) for her she wakes up the next morning repeating the same day and gets to try again. Only that day doesn’t go as well as she wanted either.

As mentioned above, there were two issues that I had. When I selected the book it was very clearly advertised or placed in the middle grade/children’s fiction genre. Since this is a children’s book, I was completely taken aback when the first two sentences reference the Eiffel tower looking like the middle finger and then the main character thinking about giving ‘the salute’ back. Since middle grade age range starts at age 8, it seems completely out of place and unnecessary for the story. After these two sentences, nothing like this is within the book and I found no other content-type issues.

The other issue is more minor and it relates to romance. In Paris on Repeat, the kids in the story are in 8th grade – not quite high school yet and are really in that in-between stage in terms of book categories between middle grade and YA/teen. Since the story includes kissing (chaste kissing) it seems a bit more than what one might expect for the middle grade genre. Because of this issue and the one mentioned in the previous paragraph, I’m wondering if this should really be moved up to YA/teens.

Overall, a fun story about friendship and developing confidence in yourself. Not a book I can recommend for younger middle grade, but is one that I definitely think late junior high/teens would enjoy.

Description:

GROUNDHOG DAY gets a hilarious French twist in this delightful upper middle grade novel about first crushes and friendship when an eighth-grade class trip to Paris goes horribly wrong and the worst day of one girls life keeps happening over and over. Fourteen-year-old Eve Hollis is ready to push through her fears and finally let her crush know how she feels. And what better place to tell him than on top of the Eiffel Tower in the City of Love? But things don’t go as planned, and Eve is sure she’s had the worst day of her life until she wakes up the next morning to realize the whole disaster of a day is happening again. She’s trapped in a time loop. Desperate to make it stop, Eve will have to take some big risks and learn from her mistakes or she’s destined to live the most awkwardly painful day of her life over and over again, forever.

Curse of the Night Witch – Book Review

Emblem Island #1 By: Alex Aster
Published On: June 9, 2020

In The Curse of the Night Witch three kids go on an adventure to find the Night Witch and remove a curse.

On Emblem Island, every individual has a mark on their wrist denoting a specific unique skill. Some marks identify what role you will have in society while others are skills that have a bit of a magical touch to them. Tor was born with the leadership emblem, but he’d much rather be able to breathe underwater. In the hopes that the wish-god can change his emblem, he submits this as a wish on Eve. But instead of a wish he receives a curse that could have only come from the Night Witch.

Part of what makes this book unique is how the story is structured. Emblem Island is full of myths and lore and all the inhabitants grow up learning about these fairy tales in a book called The Book of Cuentos. As Tor and friends seek out the Night Witch the chapters and narrative follows the places that are mentioned in The Book of Cuentos and learn that these so-called fairy tales are a bit more real than expected. In between the chapters is a short version of the lore followed by a chapter specifically relating to that lore. This creates mini-stories, or stories within a story.

The story is fast-paced in that no mini-story is longer than two chapters. This approach is perfect for young readers to help them feel a sense of accomplishment when finishing a mini-story. It also shows a lot of potential in where the series can go. As an adult, I wish these stories within a story had been a little longer so that I could settle in more to the story.

All in all I enjoyed the lore and myths and the overall uniqueness of this island and look forward to the next in the series.

Thanks to Netgalley and SOURCEBOOKS Jabberwocky for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Rating: 4 stars

Description:

On Emblem Island all are born knowing their fate. Their lifelines show the course of their life and an emblem dictates how they will spend it.

Twelve-year-old Tor Luna was born with a leadership emblem, just like his mother. But he hates his mark and is determined to choose a different path for himself. So, on the annual New Year’s Eve celebration, where Emblemites throw their wishes into a bonfire in the hopes of having them granted, Tor wishes for a different power.

The next morning Tor wakes up to discover a new marking on his skin…the symbol of a curse that has shortened his lifeline, giving him only a week before an untimely death. There is only one way to break the curse, and it requires a trip to the notorious Night Witch.

With only his village’s terrifying, ancient stories as a guide, and his two friends Engle and Melda by his side, Tor must travel across unpredictable Emblem Island, filled with wicked creatures he only k

Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Women’s Olympic Team

By: Elise Hooper
Published On: July 7, 2020

When someone thinks of the 1936 Olympics, most people will associate it with Jesse Owens set against a tense political landscape. They wouldn’t be wrong – he won 4 gold medals and became a legend. But beyond that women were still fighting for acceptance as athletes as many felt that a woman’s place was at home or believed in the myth that too much exercise would hinder a woman’s ability to have children. Fast Girls is a historical fiction novel that follows 3 women who participated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The story starts several years prior, in 1928, where Betty Robinson is a competitor in athletics (track and field). Prior to 1928 women did not compete in track and field events and even then there were only 5 events they could enter. But back at home there were other girls that were being inspired by this such as Helen Stephens and Louise Stokes.

Through the years leading up to 1936 we follow each of their stories, but also learn and become engaged with a few other women athletes, such as Tidye Pickett who was the first African American woman to not only go to the Olympics, but be able to compete. We follow their struggles to train and be coached, gender discrimination, racial discrimination and personal trials – all leading up to the 1936 games, where religious discrimination was evident as well in Germany.

Due to WWII, the Olympics were not held again until 1948. Several of the girls who might have gone onto compete again in 1940 were not able. At the end there is an Afterword giving the reader details on each of the girls featured or mentioned in the story.

Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins Publishes for the ARC and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

In the 1928 Olympics, Chicago’s Betty Robinson competes as a member of the first-ever women’s delegation in track and field. Destined for further glory, she returns home feted as America’s Golden Girl until a nearly-fatal airplane crash threatens to end everything.

Outside of Boston, Louise Stokes, one of the few black girls in her town, sees competing as an opportunity to overcome the limitations placed on her. Eager to prove that she has what it takes to be a champion, she risks everything to join the Olympic team.

From Missouri, Helen Stephens, awkward, tomboyish, and poor, is considered an outcast by her schoolmates, but she dreams of escaping the hardships of her farm life through athletic success. Her aspirations appear impossible until a chance encounter changes her life.

These three athletes will join with others to defy society’s expectations of what women can achieve. As tensions bring the United States and Europe closer and closer to the brink of war, Betty, Louise, and Helen must fight for the chance to compete as the fastest women in the world amidst the pomp and pageantry of the Nazi-sponsored 1936 Olympics in Berlin. 

Wizarding for Beginners – Book Review

By: Elys Dolan
Published on: July 7, 2020

The fun never stops with Dave, who is now part of a book club, and Albrecht – Dave’s “trusty steed and life coach.”

In Wizarding for Beginners, Dave and Albrecht are at their book club when a post card is delivered to Albrecht. It is from his family, but is also a sad moment for Albrecht because ever since a wizard put a spell on him giving him the ability to talk he has never been able to communicate with his family. One thing leads to another and soon Dave and Albrecht are off to become wizards themselves, but there are so, so, so many rules about who can be a wizard and what a wizard must or must not do that it becomes a bit too much. What’s even better is when they begin to find all the ways their fellow wizards are either following or not following the rules.

Continue reading “Wizarding for Beginners – Book Review”

Battle of Britain, 1940: The Finest Hour’s Human Cost – Book Review

By: Dilip Sarkar
Published On: July 8, 2020

In the summer of 1940, Germany began developing plans to invade Britain. Every other nation they had invaded had fallen so quickly how could Britain not fall as well? Their first task to accomplishing this goal would be to dominate them by air. Beginning ‘officially’ in July 1940, Germany waged war over certain objectives like air fields, radar, and other essential infrastructure. Many books have been written on this four month period of WWII that includes strategies, timelines, or even recollections from those who survived. This particular book focuses on the war from the perspectives of those who fell during this period of time. Those who never made it home.

In The Battle of Britain 1940, Dilip Sarkar uses each chapter to introduce us to an individual who gave the ultimate sacrifice during this period of the war. The chapter begins with the individual’s name, squadron or group, and date they were killed in action or went missing. But instead of taking the reader straight to the date in question we first learn of who they were, their family and what brought them into the war and into the service they were part of. Later we hear in their own words, through official documentation, recounts of their encounters with the Luftwaffe where they safely made it back home. For the day when they did not make it back home we read someone else’s official account of what transpired.

As easy as it would be to stop at just the pilot’s sacrifices, the author pays homage to others individuals who lost their lives during this battle but whose sacrifice isn’t as well documented as the pilots may be. During the events convoys going from America to Britain were often a target of attack. What may not be as well known is that a significant number of the sailors or merchant seaman were not British. Many who crewed these ships were part of the Indian Merchant Navy or were from China or Hong Kong. Another ‘hidden history’ as the author calls it was that of the sacrifices made by those who on the ground, such as ground crew or women in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

Overall, I liked how personal these stories were. A lot of photographs were included that were given by their families or from other sources. I suspect many history buffs will be happy to read these stories too, especially since it includes detailed accounts of what happened in the air during these fights against the Luftwaffe.

Thanks to Netgalley and Pen & Sword for an advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

The summer of 1940 remains a pivotal moment in modern British history – still inspiring immense national pride and a global fascination.

The Fall of France was catastrophic. Britain stood alone and within range of German air attack. America, with its vast resources was neutral, Hitler’s forces unbeaten, the outlook for Britain bleak. As Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, rightly predicted, ‘the Battle of Britain is about to begin’.

Famously, Churchill mobilized the English language, emboldening the nation with rousing rhetoric. In this darkest of hours, Churchill told the people that this was, in fact, their ‘Finest Hour’, a time of unprecedented courage and defiance which defined the British people. Connecting the crucial battle with Shakespeare’s heroic Henry V and Agincourt, Churchill also immortalized Fighter Command’s young aircrew as the ‘Few’ – to whom so many owed everything.

The Few comprised nearly 3,000 aircrew, 544 of which gave their lives during the Battle of Britain’s sixteen weeks of high drama. Arguably, however, the official dates of 10 July – 31 October 1940 are arbitrary, the fighting actually ongoing before and afterwards. Many gave their lives whose names are not included among the Few, as of course did civilians, seamen, and ground staff – which is not overlooked in this groundbreaking book.

In this unique study, veteran historian and author Dilip Sarkar explores the individual stories of a wide selection of those who lost their lives during the ‘Finest Hour’, examining their all-too brief lives and sharing these tragic stories – told here, in full, for the first time. Also included is the story of a German fighter pilot, indicating the breadth of investigation involved.

Researched with the full cooperation of the families concerned, this work is a crucial contribution to the Battle of Britain’s bibliography. 

Her Final Words – Book Review

By: Brianna Labuskes
Published On: August 1, 2020

While only my second book by this author, it’s clear that the setting and mood are important characteristics to the stories she tells.

Her Final Words centers around a small town in Idaho called Knox Hollow. Within its borders is a church known for its strict doctrines and tight control over its members. While FBI Agent Lucy Thorne investigates the murder of Noah Dawson, this church and their beliefs are woven into the story. None moreso than their belief that there should be no medical intervention when someone is sick or hurt. The state’s Shield Law protects parents in these instances, but it is no less controversial. Throughout the story we learn how difficult it is for the small police department to coincide with this church.

One of the fascinating aspects of the book is how little we know of our main character, Agent Thorne. Often, this genre will provide a detailed character description along with a list of their flaws and demons. Instead, Agent Lucy Thorne enters the story with very little background given. As the story progresses we learn about who Lucy is not by her history, but by her actions and by how she interacts with Sheriff Hicks and Deputy Grant.

While Lucy’s narrative is the central POV, mixed in are chapter’s from the events leading up to when Eliza confesses to FBI. Initially, I feared I would get bored of seeing only one person’s flashback. So I was pleasantly surprised when the past events were told from multiple points of view. By doing so we are given an incomplete picture of what transpired that helps to keep us guessing until the pieces finally start to fit together at the end.

In general, Her Final Words comes across as a straight mystery/suspense story with no alternating story lines told. For me, this approach worked as it allowed me to focus only on the story at hand. Once started, I became engaged rather quickly and am glad I picked it as this month’s First Reads choice.

Rating: 4 stars

Description:

It seems like an open-and-shut case for FBI special agent Lucy Thorne when Eliza Cook walks into the field office. The teenage girl confesses to murdering a young boy. Disturbingly composed, she reveals chilling details only the killer could know. Beyond that Eliza doesn’t say another word, leaving a vital question met with dead silence: Why did she do it?

To find the answer, Lucy goes to the scene of the crime in the small Idaho town of Knox Hollow. But Lucy’s questions are only mounting. Especially when she’s drawn deeper into the life of the victim. Then a combing of the woods yields unsettling evidence that Eliza isn’t the only one in this close-knit rural community with secrets.

Getting to the truth is becoming Lucy’s obsession. And it’s a dangerous one. Because for the good folks of Knox Hollow, hiding that truth will take more than silence.

The Bone Jar – Book Review

Detective Lew Kirby #1 By: S.W. Kane
Published On: July 1, 2020

I loved it. As I write this review, I’m already plotting how to put in my request to ensure Connie and Raymond both make it back to the next book in the series.

The Bone Jar mystery begins when the security guard of an old, dilapidated asylum discovers an elderly lady dead in one of the rooms. Soon DI Lew Kirby and his partner Pete Anderson are called to the scene to investigate. What they discover is the building is due for construction with limited access so the question isn’t just who is the lady and why was she killed, but how did they get in.

The story is primarily told from two POVs: DI Kirby and Connie Darke. DI Kirby is a bit unusual for detective novels these days in that he has a fairly normal life. He has a new girlfriend and he gets along with his family. He’s also a competent detective who gets along decently well with his coworkers and during the investigative process finds himself having some rather interesting interviews. Connie is someone we don’t meet until several chapters in. She has ties to the investigation and assists it effortlessly. Every time she entered the scene I knew to read carefully because something was going to happen. But as a reader I sincerely appreciated how she wasn’t a character who did stupid things, such as getting herself into danger without calling the local DI on the case. Nothing more frustrating than a character walking into a bad situation with their eyes wide open and doing nothing about it.

The plotting and pacing of the unraveling of the mystery seemed spot-on, which is what keeps me hooked in suspense novels. Always moving forward steadily until we get to the ‘thrill’ part where they catch the villain. And unlike other books I’ve read where the story feels over once the villain is caught, this one spent time giving the reader closure on several fronts to give a satisfying conclusion along with the hints of what may pop up in future books.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I do have two issues I wanted to bring up: 1) There is a splattering of curse words in the story. They are not everywhere and you can go long sections without seeing them, but some of them felt unnecessary. 2) There’s an unanswered question in my mind about an alibi that was being looked into that I don’t remember seeing the final result of. However, it’s also very possible that it was answered and I just missed it while reading.

Overall, a terrific start to a new series.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Description:

Two murders. An abandoned asylum. Will a mysterious former patient help untangle the dark truth?

The body of an elderly woman has been found in the bowels of a derelict asylum on the banks of the Thames. As Detective Lew Kirby and his partner begin their investigation, another body is discovered in the river nearby. How are the two murders connected?

Before long, the secrets of Blackwater Asylum begin to reveal themselves. There are rumours about underground bunkers and secret rooms, unspeakable psychological experimentation, and a dark force that haunts the ruins, trying to pull back in all those who attempt to escape. Urban explorer Connie Darke, whose sister died in a freak accident at the asylum, is determined to help Lew expose its grisly past. Meanwhile Lew discovers a devastating family secret that threatens to turn his life upside down.

As his world crumbles around him, Lew must put the pieces of the puzzle together to keep the killer from striking again. Only an eccentric former patient really knows the truth—but will he reveal it to Lew before it’s too late?

Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows – Book Review

The Elandrian Chronicles #1 By: J.M. Bergen
Published On: February 2, 2019

“Magic is real, Thomas. No matter what happens, always remember that magic is real.”

Thomas Wildus is living an ordinary life. He has friends, a crush on a classmate, a good relationship with his mother, and is learning Kung Fu. But one day a musical note from an unknown source and a mysterious man lead Thomas to a unique bookstore that changes everything for Thomas. While in the bookstore, the owner gives Thomas the Book of Sorrows, but only after promising to follow a few strict rules. Eager to learn about magic and everything the book has to offer, he starts reading one chapter at a time.

What I was immediately drawn to was how much the world came to life in the background of the story. While Thomas walks down a street, I can almost hear the car horns blaring. He visits his friend Enrique’s house and can feel the liveliness of activity in the home. I can see a chess set waiting for players. All together, it adds to the ambiance of the story that not every middle grade story can capture as well.

The story hums along with Thomas receiving the book, to going to school and interacting with friends, and to learning about magic. The pace is quick and even and before you know it your at the end.

The characters are fun – especially Enrique and Professor Reilly. With Enrique, there was always a wave of activity around him that captured my attention. While Professor Reilly was almost always at the center of a funny scene. Also, Huxley played the part of the enigmatic shopkeeper well with his ‘many rules to agree upon’ before letting Thomas have the book.

While I found the story a fun adventure read there were a few points that bothered me that I am certain the younger me would not have even noticed. To move the narrative along Thomas gets taken without warning by people he trusts. As an adult, it concerned me that no one told him what was going on. How difficult could it have been for those around him to give Thomas a heads-up to keep him from getting scared? Later, these same adults whom Thomas trusts also lock him in a room without warning. As a reader, I understand what was transpiring, but once again couldn’t they have mentioned this part of the plan to Thomas ahead of time? Then last, I found Enrique’s travel explanation a bit implausible considering where he had to travel from and to. Would his mother believe that story and destination? But as I said – the younger middle-grade me would not have noticed any of this at all.

Overall, Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows is an engaging book that kids will find humorous, entertaining, and filled with the wonders of magic.

Description:

Thomas thinks he’s an ordinary twelve year old, but when a strange little man with gold-flecked eyes gives him an ancient text called The Book of Sorrows, the world he knows is turned upside down. Suddenly he’s faced with a secret family legacy, powers he can hardly begin to understand, and an enemy bent on destroying everything he holds dear. The more he reads and discovers, the deeper the danger to himself and the people he loves. As the race to the final showdown unfolds, Thomas must turn to trusted friends and uncertain allies as he seeks to prevent destruction at an epic scale.

Bob’s Saucer Repair – Book Review

Bob and Nikki Book #1 by Jerry Boyd
Published On: June 20, 2019

I’m not sure I’ve seen a book like this before and I’m not sure sure what to make of it. There are no chapters and it is 90-95% straight dialogue. There are no descriptors. No internal conversations that provide you with insight into characters motivations. No background information on any character. For example, Bob mentions to Nikki he knows someone who can help out. A few sentences later he is calling John and a few more after that John is at the house. We are never told what John looks like, history, hobbies. He’s called and then he shows up.

Bob’s Saucer Repair begins when Bob pulls up to his house one day and sees an alien trying to fix her spaceship. The spaceship needs some coolant and few other broken parts fixed and Bob is more than happy to help Nikki (the alien) out. She has to leave sooner than expected and Bob feels her absence because he rather liked her company – a lot. But as it turns out Bob’s help is so invaluable that the aliens come back and offer him a business opportunity to provide saucer repair to other aliens. Almost immediately upon accepting the job the real adventure starts happening.

The main characters are Bob and Nikki, but the group grows and John becomes an integral part to the space repair shop too. Although there are several different characters, I found their personalities were a little too similar to each other. As a result, there weren’t many distinguishing characteristics between them other than a few examples here and there. I also found that the human characters all accepted the idea of aliens and spaceships a bit quicker than one might expect.

While the novel does have some flaws, there is also a sense of joy that comes across in the writing. The story offers humor, romance, and a sense of sci-fi fun.

Description:

Ride along as Bob’s life goes from ordinary to out of this world. Helping a stranger in need changes everything. Spend a little time on a fun romp with Bob and Nikki.