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Recommendation: The Princess, The Scoundrel, And The Farm Boy

The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy

by Alexandra Bracken

If your son is anything like mine, it is almost impossible to get him to read outside of his allotted “required reading” for school. The summer has always been a struggle for me as a Mom — trying to maintain some sense of a schedule and mental stimulation while also trying to allow my children to rest. Their academic calendar years always seem so jam-packed and I sometimes wonder if on some instinctual and base physical level, they need the months of summer to recuperate and catch up on all of the sleep and rest they have lost.  Between the rigorous training that attaining his black belt involved, a basketball season with late games and extra practices, pushing through his first year of middle school like a champ — it all left my 11-year old son feeling mentally drained, but I pushed on, determined to get some reading in this summer.

My son did not learn to read until the summer right before he entered the 4th grade. He was identified as having a learning disability at age 4 and was formally diagnosed with a “short term memory” disability when he was in the 3rd grade. To give you an idea as to how his disability works: just imagine reading a paragraph of text. Then imagine moving to the next paragraph, but having completely forgotten the first paragraph you read. Because of this disability, we have had to find countless ways to work around things. In most areas we were successful early on — memorization was our friend. Math was always easy because while “write” and “right” sound exactly the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings, 1 + 1 is ALWAYS 2. Our final struggle and most arduous battle was reading. How can you teach a child to read when the task is so daunting and to be honest, at times so humiliating that they feel absolutely defeated? Well, I’ll tell you. You find a story that they know. A story that they know inside and out and all they have to do is put words on paper to the story in their head — this was our recipe for success.

Star Wars: The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy is essentially the retelling of the movie Star Wars: A New Hope (or Episode 4, if you’d prefer). Lovers of the iconic series set in a fantasy land of space and time, with rebels and empires and one memorable villain, know the story inside and out. A princess leading a rebellion against an evil empire hooks up with a handsome rogue who provides her with a sturdy ship. A once immature and naive boy begins to learn the secrets of The Force from an old and wizened Jedi Master in disguise. But the novel, the first of three, digs deeper into the lives of the three central characters. Each section is focused on one of the players, allowing members of this particular fandom to delve right into the very heart and core of what makes these people tick. While there isn’t a ton of extra or new information, the story is told in a fluid manner (something not easy to accomplish, given the focus of each character) and is fresh and crisp. Author Alexandra Bracken has a way of retelling a story that most people already know in a way that makes it appear new, and the writing style is extremely friendly to readers of all ages — including those 10-year old boys who lament over not ever being able to find something worthwhile to read.

I give this book a 5 out of 5 star rating, and I recommend it to any lover of Star Wars, of fantasy, and of lands far, far away. I recommend it to any boy or girl who wants to lose themselves in richly drawn characters that they can look up to — a princess who is smart and capable and no one’s snowflake, a scoundrel who is more than he appears and carries with him a sly sense of humor and a heart of gold, and a farm boy who will find within himself something that brews strong and ancient and a lineage to write home about.

Readers will enjoy the other two tales in this three-part series:

On Amazon.com, readers can find all three of the books in a bundle for under $35 — which is a steal. They are hardcover and gorgeous. I love the clever designs and colors. Disney and Lucasfilm Press did an amazing job putting these together. Not only are all three incredibly well written, but the illustrations are unique and flawless.

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Recommendation: The Help

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

Some books are worth reading even if you see the movie — and Kathryn Stockett’s raw and real telling of The Help is one of them.

In it’s essence, The Help is a honest portrayal of race during the heated 1960’s, and threaded together with stories of women and their roles in society portrays a real and sometimes humorous account of life leading up to the Civil Rights Movement. Set in the South and in a time when segregation was not only alive and well, but also in an era when women were treated as a lower species, three women give their personal accounts from three very different perspectives. Their lives are woven together with the ties that bind most females – motherhood, friendship, insecurity, and love.

Aibileen Clark is a black woman who works for a prominent white family in town. She does all of the cleaning, a lot of the cooking, and is the primary caretaker for the family’s toddler – the sweet (if somewhat slow) little blonde Mae Mobley. Aibileen and her inherent kindness cannot help but treat Mae Mobley as if she were her very own child, nor can she help  finding a bit of a reprieve in the chubby little child for the empty hole in her heart that used to house her own son. Treelore died following an accident while on the job, and a part of Aibileen died right along with him. Raising the little girl can be an arduous task, especially in the face of the child’s mother and the challenges she brings with her. Miss Leefolt is as clueless as she is disengaged from the child, only tending to Mae Mobley when it suits her and spending more time scolding the child than loving her. Aibileen does her best to reinforce positive feelings with Mae Mobley, and the little girl clings to the black housekeeper as she would a mother, finding solace in her ever-faithful and forgiving arms. As discontent breeds between the white mother and her black maid, things in the household gain tension.

” ‘What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I stop it?’

It? That was my first hint: something is wrong with this situation. 

So I took that pink, screaming baby in my arms. Bounced her on my hip to get the gas moving and it didn’t take two minutes before Baby Girl stopped her crying, got to smiling up at me like she do. But Miss Leefolt, she don’t pick up her own baby for the rest a the day. I seen plenty a womens get the baby blues after they done birthing. I reckon I thought that’s what it was.

Here’s something about Miss Leefolt: she not just frowning all the time, she skinny. Her legs is so spindly, she look like she done growed em last week. Twenty-three years old and she lanky as a fourteen-year-old boy. Even her hair is thin, brown, see-through. She try to tease it up, but it only make it look thinner. Her face be the same shape as that red devil on the redhot candy box, pointy chin and all. Fact, her whole body be so full a sharp knobs and corners, it’s no wonder she can’t soothe that baby. Babies like fat. Like to bury they face up in you armpit and go to sleep. They like big fat legs too. That I know. 

By the time she a year old, Mae Mobley following me around everwhere I go. Five o’clock would come round and she’d be hanging on my Dr. Scholl shoe, dragging over the floor, crying like I weren’t never coming back. Miss Leefolt, she’d narrow up her eyes at me like I done something wrong, unhitch that crying baby off my food. I reckon that’s the risk you run, letting somebody else raise you chilluns. 

Mae Mobley two years old now. She got big brown eyes and honey-color curls. But the bald spot in the back of her hair kind a throw things off. She get the same wrinkle between her eyebrows when she worried, like her mama. They kind a favor except Mae Mobley so fat. She ain’t gone be no beauty queen. I think it bother Miss Leefolt, but Mae Mobley my special baby. “

But one thing Aibileen can always depend on is the outright sass and tell-it-like-it-is attitude from her best friend. Minny Jackson is a woman who was born and bred for tending a white woman’s house, but although Minny is as adept at her job as Aibileen, Minny just can’t seem to hold one down. Her lack of professional stability is mostly due to Minny not knowing how to keep her mouth shut; and she has said some things to her latest employer that not even one of her famous pies could fix. A chance phone call lands her on the doorstep of the beautiful Miss. Celia, a blonde bombshell who is looking for more than just a housekeeper . . . it seems the poor woman is looking for a friend. Celia is an outcast in the small society of the Mississippi town they live in and spends her days moping around the huge house her husband has so thoughtfully provided for her. No matter how hard Celia tries to break into the cut-glass world of her peers, the ladies who call all of the shots can’t help but be threatened by her devastating good looks, not to mention the fact that she married the old beau of the Queen Bee herself – Miss. Hilly Holbrook – and as such, made an enemy for life. Celia leans on Minny in ways that make Minny uncomfortable; she’s not used to being treated as a near equal to any white woman, but she has as growing soft spot for Miss. Celia. If it wasn’t for her sassy mouth, maybe she’d have a more solid position. . . but if it wasn’t for that sassy mouth, she wouldn’t have found Miss. Celia.

” Standing on that white lady’s back porch, I tell myself, Tuck it in, Minny. Tuck in whatever might fly out my mouth and tuck in my behind too. Look like a maid who does what she’s told. Truth is, I’m so nervous right now, I’d never backtalk again if it meant I’d get this job. 

I yank my stockings up from sagging around my feet – the trouble of all fat, short women around the world. Then I rehearse what to say, what to keep to myself. I go ahead and punch the bell. 

The doorbell rings a long bing-bong, fine and fancy for this big mansion out in the country. It looks like a castle, gray brick rising high in the sky and left and right too. Woods surround the lawn on every side. If this place was in the storybook, there’d be witches in those woods. The kind that eat kids. 

The back door opens and there stands Miss Marilyn Monroe. Or something kin to her. 

‘Hey there, you’re right on time. I’m Celia. Celia Rae Foote.’

The white lady sticks her hand out to me and I study her. She might be built like Marilyn, but she ain’t ready for no screen test. She’s got flour in her yellow hairdo. Flour in her glue-on eyelashes. And flour all over that tacky pink pantsuit. Her standing in a cloud of dust and that pantsuit being so tight, I wonder how she can breathe. “

Skeeter is a white woman of privilege, having grown up the daughter of a family in the cotton business and never wanting for anything. Having lived her childhood in the direct care of a black maid who treated her with unconditional love and affection, Skeeter’s stance on employer/employee relationships are a lot different than that of her friends. As she grew up under the expert tutelage of Constantine, Skeeter knew no boundaries with black maids. She could always find a safe place wrapped up into the bosom of the woman who raised her, whereas all she could find from her actual mother was a dismissive hand.  She can’t understand the logic behind Hilly’s quest to “ensure the emotional and physical safety of her family” by putting a separate bathroom in her home for the black help, and she can’t seem to grasp why her friends treat their maids wish such hushed disdain. As Hilly proceeds forward in a task of enlisting all white families with black help to install special bathrooms with an almost bulldozer-esque fervor, Skeeter begins to question the friendships she’d carried with her from childhood into adulthood. Intrigued by the dynamics and sensing a story to be found, Skeeter embarks on a quest of her own – to give the black maids, cooks, and caretakers of these white women’s homes and children a voice on a public platform.

” The first time I was ever called ugly, I was thirteen. It was a rich friend of my brother Carlton’s, over to shoot guns in the field. 

‘Why you crying, girl?’ Constantine asked me in the kitchen. 

I told her what the boy had called me, tears streaming down my face. 

‘Well? Is you?’

I blinked, paused my crying. ‘Is I what?’

‘Now you look here, Eugenia’ — because Constantine was the only one who’d occasionally follow Mama’s rule. ‘Ugly live up on the inside. Ugly be a hurtful, mean person. Is you one a them peoples?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t think so,’ I sobbed. 

Constantine sat down next to me, at the kitchen table. I heard the cracking of her swollen joints. She pressed her thumb hard in the palm of my hand, something we both knew meant Listen. Listen to me. 

‘Ever morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make this decision.’ Constantine was so close, I could see the blackness of her gums. ‘You gone have to ask yourself, Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?’

She kept her thumb pressed hard in my hand. I nodded that I understood. I was just smart enough to realize she meant white people. And even though I still felt miserable, and knew that I was, most likely, ugly, it was the first time she ever talked to me like I was something besides my mother’s white child. All my life I’d been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine’s thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe. “

The writer in Skeeter begins to mold her interviews of the black maids into something substantial .While initially her requests to speak with the black women was met with scorn and a lot of slammed doors, Skeeter begins to gain traction when she is able to secure the support of Aibileen, a woman very respected in her station. Skeeter’s subsequential book entitled The Help, sends a rising wave straight through the heart of her little Mississippi town, gaining speed with every story read and every bit of gossip as to who the stories are about. Aibileen and Minny are not the only contributors to the book everyone is reading and talking about; nearly every maid in town has lent her story. Putting the cold, hard truths on display for everyone to see is one way to shake things up a bit in her sleepy town, and Skeeter’s hands are all over it. Both Aibileen and Minny are surprised as to what comes out of their confessions, and of what they learn about themselves in the process.

The Help is a book that I give 4 out of 5 stars to and recommend to anyone who enjoyed the movie or is looking for a great and easy read. While the film adaptation of the book was well-done, the book dives deeper into the characters and their emotional journeys as they confront the things in their lives that perhaps they didn’t even realize were problems. Minny’s humor lends such relief to the sometimes heartbreaking accounts and reminiscences of Aibileen, and Skeeter’s transition into independent womanhood is a pleasure to witness.

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Recommendation: Say No To Joe?

Say No To Joe?

by Lori Foster

” ‘Yes, Joe.” Then she smiled. “Saying yes to Joe Winston — it has to be one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.’ “

About ten years ago I was living in a small town that was very outside of my norm. My husband at the time was given a wonderful job opportunity out of state and our family needed a change in a big way, so we made the move from big-city-living in Dallas to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Now, as a Texas girl through and through, I never EVER thought I’d come to live in Oklahoma. I enjoyed a Starbucks on every corner and a mall in all four sectors of my perimeter. Broken Arrow was sleepy and slow, and I had a hard time adjusting.

There wasn’t much to do in the part of Oklahoma that we moved to. I spent the first year feeling very much like an outsider. I had a different accent, I liked different sports teams, I didn’t go to church. I made a few friends along the way (hey there, Kristy!) and funnily enough, they were transplants too. . . so maybe that’s why we meshed so easily. The closest Barnes and Noble was half an hour away and there were none of my (much beloved) Half Price Books stores so I became a regular (and I mean regular) patron of the local library, which was surprisingly huge and stocked full of every book imaginable.

Both of my children were in school by that point, and for the first time in 7 years I actually had. . . time. I began devouring books as if there was no tomorrow, drowning myself in vampires creeping through sticky Southern nights and handsome cowboys saving damsels in distress before riding off to rob banks with their faces hidden behind dusty handkerchiefs. For the first time in my life, I picked up a romance novel. The Harlequins were out of fashion and paperback contemporary romance was all the rage, with Lori Foster leading the pack of numerous female authors who churned out spicy stories of hunky heroes and spunky heroines.

Say No To Joe? was one of those such books, and I grabbed a dog-eared copy off of a book carousel along with three or four others like it, knowing it would barely last me the week. I liked nothing better than sitting on my back porch with a glass of wine, a few chunks of cheese, some artisan crackers, and the symphony of cicadas and playing children as my companions.

I’d met Joe Winston before, in an anthology called Wildy Winston which showcased the Winston brothers in a series of four stories (all contemporary romance). Joe was a cousin of the wild four and made a cameo appearance. Lori Foster decided to give Joe his own story and The Visitation Series was born, becoming a collection of five books all set in and around the same town:

Joe Winston has asked Luna Clark out more than once, which isn’t something he makes a habit of. Usually all he has to do is flash his seductive eyes and bulging muscles at a woman and she’s ready to go wherever, whenever he chooses to take her. And if the lady in question doesn’t, well — he just moves on to bigger and better things.  But Luna — she’s different, and he hasn’t been able to get her out of his head since a kiss they shared at a relative’s wedding. She’s a little eccentric and wacky, but she’s also smart and feisty, not to mention curvaceous in all the right spots and sexy as hell. She doesn’t take his nonsense which is perhaps even more attractive than the body he so readily admires whenever in her presence. But every time he’s asked her out, she’s handed him a quick and resounding “no,” so he’s given up and has relegated her to a woman of his fantasies instead.

” Under normal circumstances, Joe kept a clear head at all times. But with Luna, nothing felt normal. In so many ways, she shot his perspective all to hell. On that particular day, she’d turned to set the meal on the checkout counter, presenting Joe with a perfect view of that delectable rear end, and without even thinking about it or the possible consequences, he’d . . . touched her. 

That is, if you could call a pat, followed by a full-palm squeeze, a mere touch. Soft, warm, resilient . . . He’d gotten one handful and immediately wanted more. A whole lot more. 

But Luna had gone rigid, and from one second to the next Joe found himself wearing his lunch instead of getting to eat it. She’d stormed out without given him a chance to apologize or explain or coax her into a better mood. 

It hadn’t been easy, but Luna had eventually forgiven him. After all, the chemistry was there, as undeniable to her as it was to him. At Zane’s wedding, Joe had finally managed to ease her into one long, wet, blistering kiss that had haunted his nights for three months now. 

After that, he’d tried repeatedly to get her alone. Hell, he’d even tried being on his best behavior. Not that his best was all that good. At thirty-six, he’d had a lot of time doing just as he damn well pleased. And the jobs he’d had — bodyguard, bounty hunter, private dick — had only made him meaner, a little nastier. It came with the territory and in some cases was outright necessary. 

But for Luna, he had tried and had been damn uncomfortable in the process. 

And still she’d turned him down. “

When Luna’s cousin dies and leaves behind two children, she feels responsible. While she didn’t know her cousin all that well, she does know that Chloe left behind a teenager and a younger son, both of whom are attempting to go at it on their own under the careless and unfriendly supervision of an aunt. The woman currently in charge of the two wants nothing to do with the responsibility of raising two unruly children and is ready to move on with her life, leaving the kids in a lurch. No one knows who fathered the kids and as a result, they are due to become wards of the state if Luna doesn’t step in. Not able to hold that thought on her conscious for long, Luna decides to step up to the plate. She can find work anywhere and is up for the challenge, with one problem — it seems someone has been causing trouble for the children in the small town they live in, blaming them for petty crimes and the like, and it almost resembles a plot to drive the kids out of town. But who would bother messing with a couple of orphaned children? Luna knows she needs backup and she knows who she can turn to — Joe Winston.

A bounty hunter among other things, Joe has the intimidating build and menacing stare required to act as Luna’s bodyguard and keep an eye on things while she gets settled, and that’s exactly what she’s looking for. Making it clear that nothing but a professional job is on her mind, Luna persuades Joe to accompany her to Visitation, the town out in the middle of nowhere where she is going to set up shop with kids her cousin left behind. Although he is a little taken aback at her can-do-attitude and willingness to step in and become a guardian to two kids she doesn’t know, Joe is all in. Little does Luna know, it actually took zero persuading on her part to get Joe to agree. She’s the one who got away as far as he’s concerned, and he is more than willing to re-open the door she previously slammed in his face and see where it takes them.

” Imagining how young kids must feel without any stability, Joe scowled. But to have Luna take over . . .

As a bona fide free spirit, Luna was too exotic, too bold and far too sexy to be a mother. Not only that, but she worked as a psychic, or rather a psychic’s assistant. There were plenty of times when Joe thought she had legitimate woo-woo ability. On several occasions, she’d seemed to know more than she should, especially about him. 

As if she’d read his mind, Luna flipped her hair and forged on. ‘I’ve already passed the background check, but I’ll have to do the home study once I’m settled there. I’m not overly concerned because while I might not be the ideal mother –‘

‘You said it, not me.’

With no interruption to her explanations, Luna pinched him on the arm, making him lurch. ‘–CPS is way overworked, and anytime kids can be placed with a relative, they tend to bend over backward to see it happen, or so the social worker told me. Even though I’m a distant, unknown relative, I’m still preferable.’

‘Yeah? Preferable to what?’

A golden fire lit her eyes, alerting Joe to the possibility if another pinch. He caught her hand to deter her. ” 

As the duo willingly fall into pseudo Mom and Dad roles for the young children, they are both surprised that the the threats keep coming, even with the hulking figure of Joe around. Someone definitely wants these kids out of town, but who — and for what purpose? It’s up to Luna and Joe to figure out the mystery, and perhaps, figure out what’s going on between them in the process.

Say No to Joe? is one of those books that you can read in a day or two, and there’s something about that that I really like. Not every book needs to be deep and meaningful; sometimes you need a little junk food thrown in with your filet mignon and if it’s spicy and hot — mores the better, right? I give Say No to Joe? a 4 out of 5 star rating. I enjoy Lori Foster’s novels and her nod to the relatable working man hero who has a tough exterior but a soft core. The right amount of romance and mystery is something to enjoy, and I’ve read this book more than a few times. The entire Visitation Series is fun, so readers like this first book, I recommend checking the others out as well (outside of Say No to Joe?Jamie is my favorite!)

 

 

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Recommendation: The Count Of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo

by Alexandre Dumas

“ All human wisdom is contained in these two words –

Wait and Hope ”

For a lot of aspiring readers, picking up one of the numerous tomes deemed “classic” can be a daunting task. From school reading lists peppered with titles like War and Peace, Moby Dick, or A Tale of Two Cities to friends who insist that you “aren’t cultured until” you’ve read The Picture of Dorian Gray or The Odyssey, classic novels are easy to find intimidating — and not just because of their overwhelmingly large size. The language styles, anecdotal phrases, and wordings are different from those of today, the subject matters and environmental circumstances are often unfamiliar to modern-day readers, and the plots are often slower moving than the quickly cranked out novels of today. And lest we forget, while writers and authors of today can pull book out of book from their minds and put to press within months, the literary geniuses of days past wrote their masterpieces entirely by hand, by candlelight or oil lamp — if they were lucky enough to be able to afford it.

But, classics are classics for a reason. Books such as Treasure Island and The Time Machine have intrigued and entertained readers for over 100 years with their swashbuckling heroes, treacherous villains, adoring and beautiful damsels in distress, and time traveling adventures. It’s amazing to me that some literature can not only last that long, but continue to bring about new readers and lovers. The magic of the written world never fails to inspire me and push me onward, eager to add another tome to my ever-growing library.

You can ask nearly anyone if they’ve heard of The Three Musketeers and their answer will be a resounding YES. From the older generations who are young at heart to the millennial attached to their cell phone, all the way down to the toddler who has seen the images of three fencing artists protecting good from evil depicted by the precocious Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy,  everyone has heard of them. A book that is set into a series of three, circling the life of a young and ambitious nobleman named d’Artagnan who aspires to become wrapped up in the exciting service of musketeers, The Three Musketeers is a true classic, and penned by an interesting and aristocratic French author named Alexandre Dumas.

But while Dumas was pleasantly settled into the adventurous and scintillating life of the roguish d’Artagnan, he was also fully immersed in the creation of another story,  tenderly chronicling the life and times of a man falsely accused of the high crime of treason before being sent away live out his final days in a dark and dank prison by the sea. The Count of Monte Cristo would become a tale for the ages, celebrated for decades to come, the classic telling of revenge and pirate’s treasure.

Edmond Dantès is a man with his entire life set before him. After a tour set at sea, he is finally home and preparing to marry the love of his life, the lovely Mercédès. Due to the death of his captain, Dantès is also now set with the task of a new seafaring position and is anxious to tell his fiancee the news. He can now support her financially, allowing her all of the things in life that she truly deserves. But upon his deathbed, his captain and friend begged a final favor —  to successfully deliver a letter and a package. Naively Edmond accepts his challenge, hoping that this will help ease the mind of a dying man and fulfill his last wishes, allowing him to pass in peace. Unbeknownst to Dantès, the parcels are part of a conspiracy of which he has been made a pawn of, and when the items are found to be objects of a larger Bonapartist crime,Dantès is sentenced without a fair trial, found to be a willing criminal and sent to prison. The victim of an elaborate cover-up set forth by three men, one of which truly meant to do Edmond harm because of the love he carried for Mercédès, Dantès is banished without ever being able to say goodbye.

After spending years on the dreary island trapped inside his small and depressing cell,Dantès is on the literally on the verge of suicide when he encounters a surprise visitor. Abbé Faria is a prisoner neatly residing in a cell nearby to Edmond’s and is hell-bent on the act of escape. He has managed to  ferret an escape route via complicated underground tunnels during his extended stay in the less than worthy accommodations, and Faria quickly befriends Dantès when he realizes the state that the hopeless young man is in. During the next eight years, Edmond is transformed from an ignorant and provincial sailor who’d all but given up hope, into an accomplished and worldly man. Under the direct tutelage of Faria,Dantès spends his days learning languages, cultures, arts, and sciences.

Dantès holds onto his new lease on life with renewed and furious hands, but Faria’s time on earth is rapidly coming to a close. Much like the old captain who died on Edmond’s watch nearly 20 years ago, this particular old man also has a final request of Dantès. During an emotional meeting of the minds, Faria weaves for Dantès the tale of a massive buried treasure, the acts of a shipwreck and a roguish band of pirates, hidden deep in the coves and caverns around the mysterious island of Monte Cristo. He beseeches Edmond to hunt and find this treasure, by way of a legacy, and to use it to his own benefits. When the old man and beloved friend dies, the apprentice stows away in the body bag being pushed out to sea as a final farewell and escapes. He honors his friend’s request and to his surprise finds the buried treasure exactly where he was told it would be. Dantès begins making plans to use the endless amount of jewels, coin, and artifacts to enact a very specific revenge upon those who have disgraced him and essentially stolen his life.

“ The friends we have lost do not repose under the ground. . .they are buried deep in our hearts.

It has been thus ordained that they may always accompany us. . .”

Reinventing himself as the darkly mystifying and elusive Count of Monte Cristo, Edmond begins to unravel a complicated web of deceit and vengeance, this time of his own making. His every move becomes a calculated exercise in patience and futility as he endeavors to put back the pieces of his life. Searching for the three men whose nefarious plans landed him in his predicament in the first place,Dantès uses the strong arm of his immense newfound wealth to dazzle and amaze them, a show of cloak and dagger, a presentation of smoke and mirrors. Edmond uses the men’s pretentiousness and ego against them,  all while brilliantly bringing them to their knees both financially and lawfully. Some things the Count has not intended, such as the fate of his beloved Mercédès, and he must make the decision of whether to bring her down with his enemies or lift her up into virtue.

But can authentic peace be found in the cool arms of retribution? Readers will simply have to wait. . . and hope.

“ ‘How did I escape?

With difficulty.

How did I plan this moment?

With pleasure.’ ”

The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic novel that I give a solid 5 stars to, and not just for the wonderful tale that is spun. It is a book that anyone can pick up and dive into, as it is as relatable today as it was a century ago when it was first published. The plot is daring, adventurous, and slipping into the mind of Dantès as he is transformed from pauper to prince is thrilling. The way that Dumas is able to formulate the complicated plan of revenge is uncanny and at times, simply awe-inspiring. It is a book that should not be missed out on by anyone, for it is a true telling of good versus evil, and a story that transcends time.

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Recommendation: The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries

by Nicola Kraus & Emma McLaughlin

“ ‘And he doesn’t care what you’re wearing or what you’ve brought him.

He just wants you there. Wanting him.

And time is running out. He won’t love you unconditionally that much longer.

And soon he won’t love you at all.’ ”

There are a few books in my expansive library that I deem “go-to’s,”

What I mean by that, is I can pick them up any time I need a break from life and quickly get lost in their world, if only for a few minutes. They are stories that I enjoy reading over and over and never really tire of; they have characters that I admire and can relate to, and they are easy to throw in my purse for those random moments of quiet that I experience while sitting at basketball practice or guitar lessons.

The Devil Wears Prada. Chances, by Jackie Collins. Pride and Prejudice.  Something Blue, by Emily Giffin.

And, The Nanny Diaries. All of these fit into my “go-to” category.

The Nanny Diaries chronicles a period of time in which Nanny, our main character, cares for the child of a rich and well-established upper class family in New York. With 4-year old Grayer almost  in her complete charge, Nanny certainly has her work cut out for her. Between a special diet that his mother deems appropriate (and one that does not include chicken nuggets or mac and cheese) and a social schedule that would leave the typical adult exhausted and overwhelmed, Nanny feels as if her feet never leave the ground. And the constant hustle and rigamarole of rules is only the tip of the iceberg; Grayer acts out and is a bit socially awkward, both as a result of his neglectful upbringing and his life of privilege.

It isn’t hard to see why the young boy behaves the way he does once the reader meets his parents; Mrs. X has no concept of compassion or affection and spends most of her days spending money or hibernating in her own space as she shuts out reality. Mr. X is a businessman who has no interest in his son or his wife, preferring the company of younger women, a fact that he does not try too hard to hide. In an effort to combat her lack of control in most areas of her life, Mrs. X is belittling and cruel to her staff, placing unrealistic expectations upon their overly laden shoulders and firing them on a whim. She chooses to focus on ways to quench her own need for personal power rather than trying to connect in any way with her son, unless of course, there is a photo-op involved. In fact, that only way that Mrs. X knows how to communicate with Grayer is with attempts at molding him into what she believes a perfect little boy should look and behave like. But instead of immersing herself in the grooming process herself, she simply delegates it all to an already flustered Nanny. It doesn’t take long for Nanny to feel as if she is in over her head, especially as the requests begin to get more extravagant and all the more strange.

” ‘I’m going to flick the light on, Grayer. Close your eyes.’ He turns his sweaty face into my neck. The light is blinding after being up for so long in the dark and I have to blink a few times before I can focus in on the gleaming silver of the faucet. I grip his body as I lean over to turn on the shower and then sit down, balancing on the edge of the tub with him on my lap. When the water hits our legs he really begins to cry.

‘I know, sweetie, I know. We are going to sit here until this wonderful steam makes your chest feel good. Do you want me to sing?’ He just leans against me and cries and coughs as the steam fills the bright tile around us.

‘ I . . . want . . . my mommmmmm.’

He shudders with the effort, seemingly unaware that I am here. My pajama pants soak in the warm water. I drop my head against his, rocking slowly. Tears of exhaustion and worry drip down my face and into his hair.

‘Oh, Grove, I know. I want my mom, too.’ 

Nanny takes the abuse from the Xes, especially as she needs the money and she sees how much Grayer needs her. A budding relationship with a hottie from Harvard who lives in the same building as the Xes helps to reinforce Nanny’s desire to keep her job. As the story progresses, Nanny begins to believe that she is the only true source of light and love in Grayer’s life, and this proves true; she is his only sense of stability in a world wrought with chaos. In crucial years where Grayer should be cuddled and adored, he is ignored and chastised, causing him to run to his Nanny more often than not. Eventually this circular pattern of abuse from his mother, perpetual distance from his father, and acute affection from his nanny leads Grayer to view Nanny as more than just a caretaker — he begins to see her as a true mother figure.

Unfortunately for Grayer, this bond does nothing but further enrage Mrs. X and makes her spin out of control, causing her to fire Nanny without allowing her to say goodbye to the young child, devastating them both and causing irreparable damage. As a final farewell, Nanny uses a Nanny-Cam to leave a message for the dysfunctional Xes.  Beseeching them on behalf of their son, she pleads a case for Grayer and his need for love and tenderness throughout the rest of his formative years. The effects of the tape and of Nanny’s sudden departure will have a lasting effect on all parties involved, although perhaps not as she had initially intended.

” ‘Frankly, Nanny, I just don’t feel that your heart’s in it anymore and I think Grayer can sense that, too. We need someone who can give Grayer their full commitment, don’t you agree? I mean, for the money we’re paying you, with the new baby coming, we should  really have someone more professional.’ She stands. ‘I’ll give you a hand, so you don’t wake Grayer.’

She follows me toward the stairs. I walk up ahead of her, frantically running through scenarios that might give me a chance to say good-bye to him. She comes behind me into the small room and stands between our beds with crossed arms, watching me carefully as I hastily stuff my things into my bag, awkwardly moving around her in the cramped space. 

Grayer moans in his sleep and rolls over. I ache to wake him. 

I finish collecting my things in her shadow and sling my bag up over my shoulder, mesmerized by the sight of Grover’s hand in a tight fist flopped over the side of the bed, the Batman Band-Aid sticking out beneath his pushed-up pajama sleeve. 

She gestures for me to walk past her to the door. Before I can help it, I reach out to smooth the damp hair off his forehead. She grabs my hand an inch from his face and whispers through clenched teeth, ‘Better not to wake him.’ She maneuvers me to the stairs. 

As I start down ahead of her my eyes fill with tears, causing the stairs to pitch beneath me and I have to grip the banister to steady myself. ‘

The Nanny Diaries is followed up by the sequel, Nanny Returns, which I did not like nearly as well as I liked this first installment. In fact, I do not recommend Nanny Returns at all, as I feel that it was a vanity book published solely to capitalize on the popularity of The Nanny Diaries. A movie was also made featuring Scarlett Johansson as Nanny, and it’s okay, but of course not nearly as good as the book.

I loved all of the little tidbits of humor in The Nanny Diaries and appreciated the behind-the-veil look at the life of a New York nanny to a wealthy family. Becoming attached to the child in your care is something that I’m sure is very easy to do considering the amount of time that full-time nannies spend with their charges, and when those children grow up or other circumstances change and the bond must be severed, I can only imagine how difficult it can be to move on to another family and begin the process all over again. As a mother myself I have no idea how to set boundaries on love for the children in my care, and I can see how attached Grayer must have gotten to Nanny, and how it must have truly injured his heart to have her ripped so thoughtlessly from him after all she provided for him.

I give The Nanny Diaries 4.5 out of 5 stars and while I understand that it is not critically acclaimed, I also appreciate that not all books have to be, to be considered good reads. While I definitely enjoy epic novels that take me weeks to get through, I also like fun and easy books that keep me turning the page; The Nanny Diaries is certainly a book that fits into that category. I recommend that a few tissues are kept handy for the ending.

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Recommendation: The Carrie Diaries

The Carrie Diaries

by Candace Bushnell

“ In life, there are only four kinds of girls:
The girl who played with fire.
The girl who opened Pandora’s Box.
The girl who gave Adam the apple.
And the girl whose best friend stole her boyfriend. ”

As a diehard fan of the HBO series Sex and the City (btw, I’m a Charlotte!) I was skeptical when writer Candace Bushnell decided to grace Carrie aficionados with a prequel. If you’ve ever tried to sit down and read the Sex and the City novel that the television series was loosely (and I mean loosely) based upon, you may have found it difficult to navigate and a bit thick in the middle. I’ve never been able to make my way through it in its entirety. Bushnell, the blonde bombshell behind some of television’s most beloved women characters is a New Yorker herself; her columns at The New York Observer magazine paved the way for her creative footsteps to stomp all the way to the bank in Christian Louboutin stilettos as she transformed her column into a itinerary for piloting your way through the City’s dating scene. While the characters of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, Charlotte, and of course, Mr. Big, are pure fiction, it’s not hard to see the similarities between the trendy literary protagonist and the smartly-clad woman who penned her.

I picked up The Carrie Diaries soon after it was first published, deciding to give it and the writer another try. Carrie Bradshaw is a woman that nearly every female in America can relate to — she’d rather store sweaters in her oven than ever actually cook, she will always find an excuse to have a cocktail with a girlfriend, and she can be terribly insecure when it comes to men and relationships. I’d always been curious as to how the Carrie that we saw in the Sex and the City series came to be, and so the prequel in print piqued my interest.

Fresh-faced highschooler Carrie Bradshaw only cares about a few things: her best friends (thick and thin, right?), writing (even though she just got rejected by the writing program she was dying to get into), and besting that insufferable “popular girl,” Donna LaDonna. But for Carrie, the perky little blonde in a sea full of Amazons, life is a balancing act. She is desperately trying to maintain her deep friendships with her besties as they muddle through life as teenagers, dealing with losses of virginity, glaring unpopularity, and sexuality confusion, and she’s attempting to set herself up with a writing career but can’t seem to get her footing under her. Things at home are strained and uneasy; she’s the oldest of three girls and all three are coping with the death of their mother, while her father can’t seem to sort out his own grief and provide the support Carrie so desperately needs. She feels as if she doesn’t end up fitting into the perfect box that everyone has set up for her, that she’ll be failing everyone. And the arrival of a boy from her past, the smart and perfect Sebastian Kydd, doesn’t help matters. Carrie finds that the crush she had on him at 12-years old is still going strong from the moment he first saunters into the high school cafeteria.

” I can barely breathe. Me — and Sebastian Kydd. It’s really happening. 

After a while, he raises his head and looks at me. He’s so close I can see the tiny flecks of dark green around his irises. He’s so close I could count them if I tried. 

‘Hey,’ he says. ‘You never asked why I didn’t call.’

‘Was I supposed to?’

‘Most girls would have.’

‘Maybe I’m not most girls.’ This sounds kind of arrogant but I’m certainly not going to tell him how I spent the last two weeks in an emotional panic, jumping every time the phone rang, giving him sidelong glances in class, promising myself I would never, ever do any bad thing ever again if he would only talk to me the way he had that night at the barn. . . and then hating myself for being so stupid and girlish about the whole thing.”

Her rivalry with popular princess Donna LaDonna is ongoing and obnoxious, and as Carrie and Sebastian grow closer, weird pranks keep happening and Carrie is sure Donna is behind them —  she’s sure Donna is wrought with typical high-school-girl jealousy and is trying to bring Carrie down. Despite warnings that all may not be as they seem with the attractive and alluring Sebastian, Carrie continues to plough on ahead with their relationship. She struggles to hold on to her virginity, wondering why she is practically the last of the people she knows to still be in possession of hers, and as the relationship between she and Sebastian heats up, it’s definitely hard to maintain her innocence. Putting herself first is not easy, but Carrie has goals and aspirations to get herself out of the little town she’s grown up in, and she can’t let a boy hold her back — no matter how good he looks in blue jeans.

Leaning on her friends has always been something Carrie has depended on, but unfortunately for her, she has to learn the hard way that sometimes even those who seem closest to you can deceive you. In fact, it’s those closest to your heart who can do the most damage. Carrie learns that Sebastian and one of her best friends, Lali, are having an affair behind her back, and Carrie takes her feelings of anger and heartache and pushes them into her writing, churning out anonymous articles for the school paper that reflect her emotions. The articles are well-received and afford Carrie the confidence to try again at getting into the writing program of her dreams. Twisting betrayal into a chance of a lifetime, Carrie teams up with someone unexpected and begins to walk into her new life. . . in high heels.

” I have this theory: If you forgive someone, they can’t hurt you anymore.

The rain rattles and shakes. We pass hollow buildings scrawled with graffiti, billboards advertising toothpaste and hemorrhoid cream and a smiling girl in a mermaid outfit pointing at the words, “CALL ME!” in capital letters. Then the scenery disappears and we’re going through a tunnel. 

‘New York City,’ the conductor calls out. ‘Penn Station.’

I close my journal and slip it into my suitcase. The lights inside the car flicker on and off, on and off, and then black out altogether. 

And like a newborn cild, I enter my future in darkness. “

The Carrie Diaries is a YA geared book that is best left for readers ages 15 and up, as it deals with teenage sex and sexual choices. I commend Bushnell for her addition of a sexually confused young man, Walt, who is one of Carrie’s inner circle. Walt is gay and uses his girlfriend to cover his true nature up, fearful of rejection from his parents and general society. The entire plot revolving around Walt and his choices is brave and truth-telling, and very relevant to the time period of the novel. Readers will get a surprise at the end of the book, as Carrie jets off to meet one of the women who will end up being a co-star in her future life in New York City, sharing pink cocktails on rooftops and gossiping about men. Fans of Carrie Bradshaw’s older character will appreciate her witty internal musings as a teenager in The Carrie Diaries, and will see how her core belief system about men and friendships began.

I give The Carrie Diaries 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it to any lover of Sex and the City. Readers can also enjoy the sequel, Summer in the City; things pick up directly after Carrie leaves home to begin her writing career in the Big Apple. Both of these are perfect for a summer day spent poolside or at the beach. And if readers are so inclined, they can find both seasons of The Carrie Diaries adapted television show on Netflix.

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Recommendation: The Flame And The Flower

The Flame and the Flower

by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

“I have no intention of spending the night in a chair and leaving you the bed.”

Credited as being the first “bodice-ripping romance novel” and a modern historical romance, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower revolutionized a genre and in doing so, became an instant classic. Since it’s publication in 1972, the debut novel from a strong-minded military wife has sold millions of copies, declaring Woodiwiss as a true legend. The book was the first of its kind, featuring actual sex scenes between a helpless heroine in distress and her handsome hero, garnering interest in a time where the feminine movement was gaining speed and strength. Pushing through the censoring stigma of sex in print and bravely crossing boundaries, Woodiwiss presented a plot-driven novel that has sustained the test of time.

After murdering a deviant man intent upon raping her, Heather Simmons flees toward the docks and away from the scene of her crime. In her agitated and disheveled state, Heather is terribly mistaken for a prostitute and dragged onboard a ship where she is subsequently raped by its captain, Brandon Birmingham, who believes her to be a woman-of-the-night. When the act has reached its completion and he discovers her virtue to have previously been intact, Brandon inquires into the mysterious and beautiful lady’s story and learns of her situation. A bit dismayed by his actions, Brandon offers Heather a standing as his mistress in exchange for her silence, but ends up insulted when she refuses. Heather is able to escape from the ship soon afterwards and races back to her home, attempting to put the terrible incidents behind her.

But when Heather realizes that the act of rape has left her pregnant by the handsome but imposing Captain she ran away from, Heather is terrified. After her aunt discovers the secret buried in her womb, a plan is hatched against her will. Her uncle tracks the roguish Birmingham down and Heather’s cruel aunt insists upon a scheme to have the two married, much to Heather’s outrage. She wants nothing to do with the devil who hurt her, but the choice is not hers to make. Heather and Brandon are soon married and begin a sea journey to the colonies, where they are to make their new life together at Brandon’s home in North Carolina.

” The days grew into weeks and after making their turn at Grand Banks the weather began to warm as their sailed further south with the strong northerly breezes behind them hastening their journey. Under the ever warming sun the natural color returned to Heather’s cheeks and all signs of illness faded away. She bloomed more beautiful than any flower, and to look at her one could surmise motherhood definitely agreed with her. Whenever she was about on quarter-deck, close under Brandon’s hand, every man’s eyes were drawn to her at one time or another, and with the wind whipping her cloak about her and teasing a stray lock of hair she was something to behold. But never was there anything said nor done to suggest they thought of her as anything but the finest of ladies, and her delicate condition brought about many helping hands when she climbed to the quarter-deck. “

While the sins of their pasts begin to wreak havoc upon their newborn lives, Heather and Brandon become immersed in a dance of misunderstandings and simmering tension laced with passion and attraction. The women from Brandon’s former life as a single and eligible bachelor are ever present and their snide, simpering ways and remarks are a plague upon Heather’s attempts at carving out a home in a foreign land. As her belly grows with a healthy child, as do the feelings between the married couple, and a true romance between them eventually begins to play out.

” Though most of his time was consumed at the mill what spare moments he had he spent with his wife and son. He rose early in the mornings, yet found Heather up and tending the babe, either bathing him or giving him his morning nourishment. Enjoying both sights it became part of the rote for him to join her there before his day’s work began. A new, stronger yet unspoken bond began to build between them in those quiet morning moments they spent together with their son. “

Unfortunately for the couple,  their newfound amiability and amorous relationship is soon clouded by accusations of murder, revelations of immorality and dedicated character assassination. Heather and Brandon must fight together to protect their bond and their family, and in doing so, further strengthen the ties that bind them. . .a London girl to her brave Captain.

Readers who enjoy a classic and historical romance are sure to enjoy the trailblazer of this genre, and I give The Flame and the Flower a solid four out of five stars. It should not be compared to the steamy novels of today, but instead, appreciated for it’s bravery and honesty as a groundbreaking romance catering to subject matter that is otherwise not flattering. Woodiwiss went on to write 11 more bestselling romance novels, two of which are sequels to The Flame and the Flower and surround other characters (The Elusive Flame and A Season Beyond a Kiss). Readers can also find two novellas (The Kiss and Beyond the Kiss) to round out their Birmingham Saga series.

Kathleen Woodiwiss helped make the romance market what it is today and as such, should be celebrated and revered. In a genre where paperback romances can become nothing more than throwaways, The Flame and the Flower has survived and is still a valid and relevant novel for any romance reader to add to their collection.

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Recommendation: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.”

Happy Summer!

We get lots of reading done in the hot and sticky months of June-July-August. Texas has unforgiving temperatures during the summertime and we avoid going outside until the sun goes down. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks plumping up my bookshelves with some great mid-grade and YA reads that vary from old to new, and as my children really loved this movie, I was excited to share the book.

Because you know, the book is always better. And you don’t have to wait long for the sequel, because it’s already in print!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a unique children’s novel in that it is told through a series of photographs paired with narrative, and that it is darker than the average mid-grade book. The author’s original intent was to showcase his collection of vintage and peculiar pictures via a photo album format, but decided to go another way and provide a storyline to accompany them. Inspiration can come from a variety of places for authors and Ransom Riggs‘ blend of creepy and cool is sure to capture the interest of many more children to come. The genre of mid-grade books has expanded in the last decade, providing a larger variety of subject matter and a lot less fluff for this particular age group, and I for one am very pleased. This type of book in particular allows the readers mind to become completely engaged, and the imagination can run free while trying to figure out what the monsters involved in the story look like and how the idea of a “time loop” really works.

Jacob has always had a strong bond with his grandfather. As the years went by spending time together was a priority for them both, and after a strange and grisly accident that results in his grandfather’s unexpected death, Jake finds himself confused and at a loss as to how to process his grief. Growing up, Jake’s grandfather regaled him with tales of the school he grew up in, carving images of the tumultuous era of World War 2, and of how young Abraham took refuge in a children’s group home near Wales. Abraham was surrounded by kids of a variety of ages and manner, but they all had one thing in common — they were peculiar.

One girl could make herself completely invisible. One young lady possessed a freak amount of enormous strength. A young child had not one, but two mouths — the second of which was settled at the back her skull. As one boy used his stomach as a vessel for protecting live bees, another teenager was able to resurrect the dead, all while at the same time appearing to be as heartless as the subjects with which he ran his curious experiments.

” I felt even more cheated when I realized that most of Grandpa Portman’s best stories couldn’t possibly be true. The tallest tales were always about his childhood, like how he was born in Poland but at twelve had been shipped off to a children’s home in Wales. When I would ask why he had to leave his parents, his answer was always the same : because the monsters were after him. Poland was simply rotten with them, he said. 

“What kind of monsters?” I’d ask, wide-eyed. It became a sort of routine. “Awful hunched over ones with rotting skin and black eyes,” he’d say. “And they walked like this!” And he’d shamble after me like an old-time movie monster until ran away laughing. “

Surely none of these stories were true? Jake had always chalked it up to idle bedtime tales and the ramblings of an old and lonely man. Except something is now haunting Jake. . . his grandfather’s last words to him were not that he loved him or that he would miss him, but — “find the bird in the loop on the other side of the old man’s grave on September 1940, and tell them what happened.” With the mystery of Abe’s death completely unsolved, Jake has a hard time finding any sort of closure or resolution. His parents refer him to a psychiatrist who suggests Jake visit and explore the place his grandfather always spoke of so fondly, and to see if he can hunt down some answers about this strange school so he can perhaps put some things to rest in his mind.

Unfortunately for Jake, once he arrives in England, he finds the orphanage of Abe’s childhood left in complete ruins and disrepair, apparently not having survived the brutalities of war. Not being able to garner much information from the townspeople is frustrating and leaves Jake to explore the small town primarily on his own. During one of his treks through the murky countryside he comes across a strange girl, and as it turns out, this meeting is not one of pure chance — it is this lovely, blonde young lady who leads him to the elusive Miss. Peregrine.

” ‘We peculiars are blessed with skills that common people lack, as infinite in combination and variety as others are in the pigmentation of their skin or the appearance of their facial features. That said, some skills are common, like reading thoughts, and others are rare, such as the way I can manipulate time.’

‘Time? I thought you turned into a bird.’

‘To be sure, and therein lies the key to my skill. Only birds can manipulate time. Therefore, all time manipulators must be able to take the form of a bird.’

She says this so seriously, so matter-of-factly, that it took me a moment to process. ‘Birds. . . are time travelers?’ I felt a goofy smile spread across my face. “

Jake feels as if he has entered another world completely and as he grapples with confusion and wonders if he has lost his mind, Jacob urges Miss Peregrine and the children at the home to explain to him what exactly is going on. The house he’d previously visited and found in ruins is now a beautiful and well-kept home, as if it’s part of some weird time warp. The children are dressed in clothes that seem to be from another time altogether. . . and all seem to have the same powers as those Abraham described in his elaborate stories. Miss. Peregrine explains that the house and its inhabitants are hidden in something called a “time loop” and that they all relive the same day over and over. The loops are set up by her particular kind all over the world for the protection of peculiar children and their rare gifts. Miss. Peregrine and other teachers like her are in charge of these special children and keeping them safe from a distorted race of monsters known as hollowgasts. The hollows and wights are the result of experiments gone wrong and use the children to expand upon their devious powers, hunting them down mercilessly and murdering them to absorb their energy.

Unbeknownst to the team of children and their leader, the hollows have been stealthily tracking them and are eager to engulf the children and receive special strength through their demise. Once Miss. Peregrine is kidnapped, it is up to Emma, Jacob, and a handful of other brave children to rescue her and try to restore the balance to the loop and their lives.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a novel that I give 4 out of 5 stars to, and while it is geared primarily for mid-grade readers, I enjoyed it as an adult. I know that some adults who have read this novel took issue with the (completely innocent) budding romance between Jacob and Emma, especially as Emma previously had a romantic link to Abraham. I think that falls into the category of nitpicking and has very little to do with the story, especially as nothing but a mild attraction comes of it. Emma is a girl stuck in the 1940’s and whether or not she has actually aged internally or not makes no difference, seeing as how she has lived the same day for the majority of her life, with no newcomers brought into it until Jake. The story is whimsical and innovative and should be taken at face value instead of trying to assign labels to it in a modern day setting. I think readers are happiest when they just let fantasy be fantasy, and that is exactly what this book is.

If you or your child enjoyed the film version, I recommend picking up the book. There are two sequels (Hollow City and Library of Souls) and a companion book (Tales of the Peculiar). Readers might also be interested to learn that Riggs is planning a second trilogy set in the Peculiar world, the likes of which will be played out in America.

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Recommendation: A Court Of Thorns And Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses

by Sarah J. Maas

” Be glad of your human heart, Feyre.

Pity those who don’t feel anything at all. ”

Feyre knows nothing but survival.

Since the financial collapse of her family’s fortune and livelihood, she has had to step up — especially as no one else in her family has risen to the challenge.  Week after week and month after month, she has taken to the dense woods surrounding the meager cottage she and her family lives in, set to forage and hunt for food and anything that can garner a coin. Pelts she can sell for a premium price to the right vendor and meat they can dry or cook immediately, although there never seems to be enough to a sate the hunger that permanently resides in her belly. Feyre knows nothing but hard work and the burden of supporting three other people. Her sisters, the quiet Elain and opinionated Nesta, consider themselves too gentile and fragile for such common work as hunting, preferring instead to tend gardens and clean the interior of the shack they call home.

Feyre’s dreams are full of color. Sunny yellows and rich blues, vibrant reds and soft-as-petal pinks. If she had it her way, the golden-haired beauty would spend her days painting every surface in her home and beyond, creating an imaginary cocoon full of the whimsy and the fantastic. But if it wasn’t for her arduous struggles within the depths of the forest almost every day, her sisters simply wouldn’t eat. And as there is never any money left over to buy paint anyway, she must be content with putting her dreams on the back burner, allowing them to fester and build only in the recesses of her imagination.

” Once it had been second nature to savor the contrast of new grass against dark, tilled soil, or an amethyst brooch nestled in folds of emerald silk; once I’d dreamed and breathed and thought in color and light and shape. Sometimes I would even indulge in envisioning a day when my sisters were married and it was only me and Father, with enough food to go around, enough money to buy some paint, and enough time to put those colors and shapes down on canvas or the cottage walls. 

Not likely to happen anytime soon — perhaps ever. So I was left with moments like this, admiring the glint of pale winter light on snow. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done it — bothered to notice anything, lovely or interesting. “

One day while on the hunt, she spots something out of place. The  huge and hulking beast before her would mean food on the table for days, possibly even weeks. But there is something in the beast’s eyes that gives her pause. . . something, not quite human — but also not completely animalistic. Drawing on her suspicions and well-regulated fear, Feyre draws a special arrow from her quiver. This arrow is made from ash wood and is carefully crafted, it’s only purpose is to kill a very specific target — that of the fairy persuasion.

The Fae have lived on their side of the wall for as long as Feyre has walked the human side of their world. The treaty that included creating the wall was signed centuries before she was even born, and she has grown up hearing the tales of the evil and maniacal Fae —  how they sneak in through cracks in that wall to prey on human flesh, satisfying their disgusting and vengeful appetites via murder and mayhem. Coming face to face with one in the human territory results in her making a choice that will have consequences that stretch over her entire life, and those lives around her; spreading out like a thick web of sticky silk.

” Our territory was too small and poor to maintain a standing army to monitor the wall with Prythian, and we villagers could not rely only on the strength of the Treaty forged five hundred years ago. But the upper class could afford hired swords, like this woman, to guard their lands bordering the immortal realm. It was an illusion of comfort, just as the markings on our threshold were. We all knew, deep down, that there was nothing to be done against he faeries. We’d all been told it, regardless of class of rank, from the moment we were born, the warnings sung to us while we rocked in cradles, the rhymes chanted in schoolyards. One of the High Fae could turn your bones to dust from a hundred yards away. Not that my sisters or I had ever seen it. “

Days after her kill in the woods, her world is shattered. A second beast comes barreling into her home, demanding retribution for the Fae he believes to have been murdered in cold blood, breaking the rules of the treaty. Feyre steps up and takes responsibility, bidding her sisters and father a hastily made farewell. In killing one of the Fae, her life has become forfeit, and she must journey to the other side of the wall with the beast of a man who is calling in the bargain of her human predecessors.

The Spring Court is an eerily quiet place, full of bountiful gardens full of beautiful blooms and greenery, but there is an umistakable shadow that lingers upon the land. Upon arrival, Feyre spends her time struggling to come to grips with her new situation and the somewhat convoluted navigation around the lavish mansion’s inhabitants. Tamlin, the beast who procured her from the human side of the wall, is the High Lord of the Spring Court and as such, intent upon cultivating his lands in the midst of a tenuous political situation between the counts in the land of Fae. Lucian, his emissary and transplant from the Autumn Court, is wily and mischievous, and while Feyre chooses to view him as a potential ally, she must tread carefully as she begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse while trying to garner information about her captor.

” I’d be better off persuading Lucien to speak to Tamlin on my behalf — and soon, before any of the others whom they’d mentioned appeared, or this blight of theirs grew. Tomorrow — I’d speak to Lucien then, test him out a bit. 

In my room, I found a small satchel in the armoire and filled it with a spare set of clothes, along with my stolen knife. It was a pitiful blade, but a piece of cutlery was better than nothing. Just in case I was ever allowed to go — and had to leave at a moment’s notice. 

Just in case. “

While Tamlin suggests that Feyre is not his prisoner, but rather a means to an end in regards to satisfaction within the treaty, she is physically bound to the lands of the Spring Court. Curiosity pushes her to test these boundaries and exploration of the woods and gardens lends itself to meetings with lesser fairies and creatures that have deviant intentions, putting her into danger that is the stuff nightmares are made of. But Feyre is able to gather some information about the world she is now living in, and does her best to use it to her advantage – ever on the offensive.

Despite her best efforts to the contrary, Feyre finds herself drawn to the brooding and handsome Tamlin. Moody and temperamental he may be, she is also privy to a quiet kindness that remains hidden behind a mysterious mask of propriety and ancient custom. The mansion is all but deserted, and as Feyre continues to ferret information from the remaining inhabitants, she learns of a curse put upon the lands and it’s High Lord. Little does she know, she plays a large part in that curse, but the breaking of it will require skills Feyre may not possess in her arsenal.

When  a chance meeting with a peculiar and sharp-tongued stranger leaves Feyre unnerved, she chooses to withdraw into Tamlin’s embrace rather than go with her instincts and push for more information. The stranger, however, continues to plague her thoughts and when he shows up again with clear news of an immediate threat, Feyre is haunted. The blight upon the Spring Court’s lands is spreading and the only way to break the curse is to go to its source — to a wicked queen named Amarantha, who resides Under the Mountain, in the bowels of darkness and despair. To protect the woman he now cares for, Tamlin spirits Feyre back across the wall to her abandoned family, attempting to hide her among her own people so that she may be shielded from the fight that is sure to come. But soon after arriving back home, Feyre realizes that her feelings for Tamlin have shifted from soft affection and instinctual lust into something more akin to . . . love.

After rushing back to the Spring Court to declare her newfound feelings, Feyre is dismayed to find the mansion deserted and torn apart. With the aid of a friend, she makes her way Under the Mountain to confront the evil temptress and retrieve what has been stolen from her.

” ‘Take me to her,’ I insisted.

If Amarantha ripped out my throat, at least I would die doing something for him — at least I would die trying to fix the destruction I hadn’t prevented, trying to save the people I’d doomed. At least Tamlin would know it was for him, and that I loved him. 

Alis studied me for a moment before her eyes softened. ‘As you wish.’ “

A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first installment of a series of books by New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas. There are currently three Court books in publication. While these three are centered around Feyre and her adventures within the High Courts, her story is assumed to be wrapped up at the end of the third book. The series will continue next year with spin-off stories from other beloved characters featured in the books. Maas earned renown for her epic Throne of Glass series set in a fantasy world that runs parallel to the Court’s Fae-ruled society, and the fandoms surrounding both series are extensive and seriously supportive. A Court of Thorns and Roses is a modern-day take on Beauty and the Beast, but with a lot of clever twists and turns.

While the age of the main character often dictates the genre of the book and A Court of Thorns and Roses is typically classified as a Young Adult novel, I do not recommend this series to anyone under the age of 16, due to the nature of hot-hot-hot graphic sex and some violence. I give A Court of Thorns and Roses 4.5 out of 5 stars, and I have to tell you — if you even remotely like this book, you must read the sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury. The sequel is one of the best fantasy books I have ever read and kept me neatly enthralled for days. I highly recommend it. The latest book, A Court of Wings and Ruin recently came to bookshelves and fans going crazy for it.

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Recommendation: Along Came A Spider

Along Came a Spider

by James Patterson

” One of the techies handed me a report to sign as I left the Sanders house. 

I signed it my usual way — with a †.

Cross. 

Tough guy from the tough part of town. Right. “

I love getting swept up in a good mystery.

As a patron of James Patterson’s elite brand of twisting and turning mysteries for years, I have developed a familiar affection for Detective Alex Cross. A few movies have been made portraying the strong, male character, but I’ve never felt that they truly capture the essence that is the notoriously persistent and skilled detective and Washington D.C. native. Alex is sexy and empathetic. He feels things, especially the victims he is fighting for and for the residents of the city he has chosen to live in. . . he is attune to their pain and he won’t quit until he’s done them justice. He’s an exemplary father, and takes cares of those in his immediate family with as much tender-loving-care as any man could. He is a loyal best friend who will, quite literally, take a bullet for his partner if need be. He’s just the sort of man I love to read about. He’s the sort of man that we should have more of.

The life and times of Detective Alex Cross have been chronicled by mystery-master James Patterson over the course of 27 (and counting) novels. But the first – the introduction – is Along Came a Spider.

School is a place that’s supposed to be unwaveringly safe. And as a parent in an affluent community, there should be zero question that  you should be able to drop your children off and go on your merry way; with zero question as to if your child will be protected or not. Money can buy anything, right? With money comes power and with such things, security and well-being become  a given. When you spend thousands of dollars a year on your child’s private education. . .a fancy building in a well-to-do neighborhood with teachers who are specially chosen for their innumerable talents in each subject, you have paid for the best and as such, shall receive it — right?

Wrong.

When the unthinkable happens – two children kidnapped right from school – the prominent and wealthy niche of Washington D.C. is shocked. Especially when the news coming across the waves is accusing a teacher of being the criminal culprit.

” Soneji climbed into the front and fired up the blue van. As he drove from the parking area, he sang “Magic Bus” by The Who. He was in an awfully good mood today. He was planning to be America’s first serial kidnapper, among other things. “

Alex Cross, a local homicide investigator and forensic psychologist, is called in to take over the case. He’s currently in the field working a string of the recent brutally violent murders of black prostitutes in the poorer part of D.C. He’s not particularly thrilled when he’s forced to abandon his ongoing case, especially when he sees how much media attention the kidnappings are garnering. Why is the snatch and grab of a couple of white kids more newsworthy than the murders of black women in the wrong part of D.C.? Irritated and angry, Alex struggles to switch gears and quickly partners up  with blonde and ambitious Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannagan. As head of the detail that was assigned to keep the children safe, she is having  hard time accepting her failure. With the other case reluctantly put on the back-burner, Alex enlists Jezzie’s help in putting the pieces together and working fast to catch a kidnapper.

” Jezzie Flannagan stayed behind. ‘I’ve heard about you, Detective Cross, now that I think of it. You’re the psychologist. There was an article in the Washington Post. ‘ She smiled nicely, a demi-smile. 

I didn’t smile back. ‘You know newspaper articles,’ I told her. ‘Usually a pack of half-truths. In that case, definitely some tall tales.’

‘I’m not so sure about that,’ she said. ‘Nice to meet you, anyway.’ Then she walked into the office behind Secretary Goldberg, the mayor, and the star FBI agent. Nobody invited me — the psychologist-detective of magazine fame. Nobody invited Sampson.

Monroe did poke his head out. “Stick around, you two. Don’t make any waves. Don’t get pissy, either. We need you here. I need to talk with you, Alex. Stay put. Don’t get pissy.’

Sampson and I tried to be good cops. We stood around outside the headmaster’s office for another ten minutes. Finally, we left our posts. We were feeling pissy. 

I kept seeing the face of little Mustaf Sanders. Who was going to go and find this killer? No one. Mustaf had already been forgotten. I knew that would never happen with the two private-school children. “

Meanwhile in the undisturbed country outside of the city proper, Gary Soneji believes himself to be in the midst of a perfect crime that will gain him prestige and fame for decades to come. An obsession with high profile kidnappings has led him on a quest to carve his own place out in history as a brilliant criminal. He has the two missing children locked in makeshift coffins in the ground at an old farmhouse, and he’s beginning his plan to extort money from their wealthy and high-profile parents by way of ransom. But after hearing some disparaging remarks about himself over the news by a FBI agent, Soneji’s plan takes a turn. He cannot allow these terrible things to be said about him on such a public platform — he cannot allow his image of a criminal mastermind to be tainted. Clad in a clever disguise, he murders the agent in question, the dumping of his body helping to soothe Soneji’s maniacally hurt pride.

As the investigation into the slippery Soneji continues, Alex and Jezzie begin to grow closer. Despite the attraction he has to wonder – is it a mistake to get so close to her so soon? Something about Jezzie is off, but Alex can’t quite put his finger on it. He’s enjoying the comfort and thrill of the relationship, something he hasn’t had in his life for a while now.  He’s also trying to keep a firm eye on the kidnapping case, but his attempts at victim retrieval are foiled when he attempts to trade ransom for one of the children, but has the money stolen from him instead. And as more murders relating the kidnappings occur, Alex is stunned to discover that he may be on the trail of solving not one – but two – cases at the same time.

In a classic tale of cat and mouse, Alex Cross is determined to have closure with the spider whose web he’s been caught in for over a year. The fast-paced style of James Patterson will at times leave readers breathless as one facet of the investigation is laid to rest but many more questions are raised. Who is Gary Soneji? Where are the missing children? And what is Jezzie Flannagan hiding?

I give Along Came a Spider 4.5 out of 5 stars. I have been a fan of James Patterson for many years now and Alex Cross is by far my favorite of his characters. My only regret for Alex is that he has such a hard time with his love life. Patterson could stand to give him a break every now and then. Patterson writes intelligent and crafty mysteries and never disappoints me, much like another mystery author I love – Patricia Cornwell. The books are quick and easy to get through and perfect to curl up with on a dark and stormy night.

Fans of Alex Cross can continue the journey with their favorite D.C. detective and jazz-playing good guy with:

  1. Along Came a Spider
  2. Kiss the Girls
  3. Jack & Jill
  4. Cat & Mouse
  5. Pop Goes the Weasel
  6. Roses Are Red
  7. Violets Are Blue
  8. Four Blind Mice
  9. The Big Bad Wolf
  10. London Bridges
  11. Mary, Mary
  12. Alex Cross
  13. Double Cross
  14. Cross Country
  15. I, Alex Cross
  16. Cross Fire
  17. Kill Alex Cross
  18. Alex Cross, Run
  19. Cross My Heart
  20. Hope To Die
  21. Cross Justice
  22. Cross Kill
  23. Cross The Line
  24. Detective Cross
  25. The People vs. Alex Cross (due out in November 2017)